How to Comfort a Grieving Friend

Finally, the air was lighter, a welcomed reprieve from the heavy blanket of humidity that had hung over us for days. Taking advantage, a friend invited me to meet her for a walk, and without a moment’s hesitation, I exclaimed, “Yes”!

Our feet hit the payment, our pace trailing the tempo of our chatter. We discussed our kids, new recipes and upcoming plans, but something didn’t seem right. With each lap, her steps became more labored, her pace gradually slowing until she eventually stopped. “My heart hurts. I’ve prayed, attended counseling, allowed time to pass, but nothing works. I am weary and worn down,” she confided with tear filled eyes and shoulders that buckled under the weight of her sorrow.

Unlike most situations, when words effortlessly roll off my tongue, another’s grief—of any kind—renders me practically mute. My tongue either fails to operate or mumbles trite, cliched phrases. I’m at a loss without an erasable pen, scrap sheets of paper and time to craft the perfect message of comfort and hope.

Desperate to mend my friend’s broken heart and lift her spirits, I tried to make jokes to mask any discomfort on my part. I also mentioned a few Bible verses and rattled off a list of “to-dos” to help cheer her. After a few awkward pauses, we finished the last few steps in silence. 

Driving home, I felt like a total failure and lashed out at God, “Where were YOU today? I could have used your help to find the right words to say, but instead, you left me on my own, so I made a complete mess of things.” 

After recounting to my husband the disastrous attempt to pull my friend out of the pit of despair, he gently reminded me, “You’re just not that strong.” Ouch. Indeed, those words were hard for me to accept, but they were true. In my own power, I had tried to help resolve her problems and failed. 

Jesus saves—not me—the only way we can relieve heavy hearts is to turn burdens over to the only One capable of bearing them all (Matthew 11:28-30). Believing that our Heavenly Father is sovereign in all things, good or bad, and that He truly is “close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18), enables us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). 

While real healing only comes from the Lord, there are ways that we, His servants, can comfort those who are in pain:  

Be Present

Often, when people are hurting, they don’t always seek an immediate solution. Instead, they desire to have someone near who simply listens when they are ready to share their sorrow. Never underestimate the value of just being accessible, physically close by.

Be Empathetic

Most certainly, there is a time to cite Scripture that reminds believers that ultimate consolation is in Christ. However, when the wound is very fresh, this well-meaning attempt to console sometimes comes across as rote and insincere. Recall how Jesus responded after hearing of Lazarus’ death. Although He already knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, He, too, wept (John 11:35). Jesus empathized with the grieving sisters of Lazarus—He understood human sorrow and the heartache that loss of a loved one brings.

Be Sensitive

Call on the Holy Spirit and be sensitive to His leading. Ask the Lord to reveal specifically how you can most effectively help someone in pain. It may be just sitting with your friend or praying for her or simply sending an encouraging note. In other situations, you might be able to relieve some of the distress by providing a meal, offering to watch her children or perhaps paying a bill that’s due. 

The Bible is filled with examples of godly people who experienced extreme heartache and sorrow. Jesus tells us that “in this world, we WILL have trouble.”  Nevertheless, here’s the good news: we can have peace because He has overcome the world! Friend, no words, no casserole, no flower arrangement substitutes for the hope that we have in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. 

Rest in the knowledge that it isn’t necessary to formulate the perfect response to another’s grief. The best course of action is to pray and point to the perfect One, Jesus, who tells the weary and burdened to come to Him, and He will give them rest (Matthew 11:28).

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)

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