In times of grief, family members and friends need ministry. They need comfort. They need understanding. They need listening ears and hearts. They need our prayers and care.
Many times, those who are grieving need the presence of people who care. Presence is much more important than our words. I remember clearly the days following my father-in-law’s death. I remember few words that were expressed, but I remember the family and friends who made the effort to be present. I remember how much it meant to me, my wife, her mom, her sister, and others.
But I have seen so many poor and even hurtful efforts during grief. I read a great article with real illustrations by Cecil Murphy entitled What Not to Do When Someone is Grieving. In the article, he lists five mistakes individuals and classes should avoid in their efforts to minister in times of grief:
Thoughtlessly quoting the Bible. I have heard misquoting, poor theology, scripture out of context, and scripture used more as a battering ram. Families need comfort and God’s Word offers comfort, but we should be careful how we use it. And I agree with Murphy. They don’t need a sermon in our act of comfort.
Giving glib answers. Presence is important. Words are secondary. But there are many inappropriate things to say during grief. Offer genuine care and comfort.
Not allowing personal expression of grief. I have seen this so often with my extended family and others. When the tears start, effort is made to change the subject or distract so as to stem the flow. Some intentionally try to stop the grief-stricken person from crying, sometimes selfishly not wanting to cry themselves and sometimes because of lack of understanding of the grief process.
Overprotection. People often need space after the death of a loved one. Family and friends can overreact and refuse to leave the individual alone, even for a moment. Others hold back written, phone, and other expressions of grief from for fear that they will bring hurt. Sometimes it hurts worse not to know that someone did attempt an expression of concern.
Forcing the tears. People grieve differently. Some are more private. Some grieve deeply without tears. That does not diminish their grief. Allow, but don’t try to force tears or grief.
Lead your class to respond appropriately following the death of a loved one. Pray. Be available. Be present. Don’t say too much. Be persistent in your care!