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Weep With Those Who Weep

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It’s imperative for God’s people to have and show compassion and love by offering emotional support to someone who is grieving. “Compassion” literally means “feeling with.” God has great compassion for each of us and our hearts must become like God’s heart. 1 Corinthians 12:26 is a companion scripture to the one above.

When someone else suffers a major crisis, you can’t fully empathize if you haven’t gone through a similar crisis, but you can imagine their pain and do your best to empathize—to “put yourself in their shoes.”

It’s a magnificent blessing that our sorrows are mixed with long-range hope!
(1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). But God’s people still suffer with all kinds of grief, some of which are devastating. Think of losing a child or a beloved spouse. Think of your loved one being in great pain or being a full-time caregiver for a spouse with dementia. According to Ezekiel 9:4, we should also “sigh and cry over all the abominations” in our society! Even losing a pet can be traumatic.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). It’s natural to grieve about your own trials but this Beatitude implies that God is especially pleased when we mourn with those in mourning.

To support those who are hurting, begin and continue with prayer! If you have a close relationship, offer to visit. See James 1:27. And phone and email. And send a card or meaningful gift with a personal note. Also, please be aware that grieving people seldom get comforting communication after the first two or three months. It’s very special to receive a “thinking of you” note or call later on.

Grieving and weeping are healthful

Trying to stifle sorrow just delays it and worsens it. “Stuffing”—bottling up—one’s feelings often results in long-range depression. Grieving brings about healing. And being a companion to someone grieving helps him or her to heal.

The Bible emphasizes joy but that doesn’t mean we must always feel “happy” no matter what happens. Grieving at appropriate times is an essential part of a joyful life.

In many cultures in the past (and even today), a grieving person, often with family and friends, spent a set period—such as a week or a month—focusing on his or her grief. That had a healing effect—he or she was better prepared for resuming everyday life. The Bible relates numerous examples of godly people passionately mourning for long periods.

In contrast, Western culture, especially the U.S., doesn’t have any specific ritual for grief. Also, we often don’t know how to respond to someone who is grieving. Many people are uncomfortable about expressing grief or being around people who are grieving. Some even avoid funerals, not heeding the admonition in Ecclesiastes 7:1-4.

When someone says, “Don’t cry,” it’s almost always bad advice. Shedding tears has several emotional and physical benefits.

Many people wrongly think shedding tears shows emotional weakness or lack of masculinity. Do a search for Bible verses with the words “weep” or “wept” or “weeping” and you’ll see that countless good, strong people wept. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

When a grieving person sees tears in your eyes, that person knows you care. And if you are crying on the inside, the grieving person probably knows that.

Reasons people don’t weep with those who weep

There are many reasons or excuses for why people don’t effectively grieve with those who are grieving. Many people in our secular, Western culture ignore the Bible with its emphasis on the Golden Rule and the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31; see also Matthew 7:12). True love involves self-sacrifice. Jesus “laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).

Grief is a part of true love. The more you love a person, the more you grieve when that person suffers or dies. Grief is not a “problem” to be avoided or a sickness to be cured. Grieving is healing.

Some people are simply selfish and insensitive, unwilling to sacrifice time and personal pleasure to comfort others. Actually, true joy comes from giving and generosity (Acts 20:35).

Many people avoid those who are grieving because they “don’t know what to say” and are afraid they “might say the wrong thing.” This can be better than saying something hurtful, but the grieving person then has the added sorrow of loneliness. Friends turn out to be “fair-weather friends” who don’t offer “a shoulder to cry on” or a hand to hold. A famous quote says, “Laugh and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone.” Weeping alone should not happen in God’s Church!

What to say and not say to a grieving person

We hear jokes about how a wife just wants to talk about her trial but her husband irritates her by quickly offering a solution. Similarly, that is a common mistake of those who want to “help” a grieving person. As mentioned above, grief is not a temporary “problem” that needs to be “fixed.” Generally, you should not be giving advice to a grieving person. Or stating obvious truths as if the grieving person doesn’t know those truths. Or offering insensitive platitudes. Don’t act like you’re an all-wise savior.

You don’t need to say much. You can say simple things like: “I’m heartbroken for you and I’m here for you. I’m praying for you.” Being a good listener is often more important than anything you say. Encourage the griever to relate precious memories.

If you say, “What can I do to help?”, you probably won’t get a suggestion. A grieving person has a hard time thinking and won’t want to put you out. Make offers! “I’d like to mow your lawn for a few weeks,” or “Let me shop for your groceries.”

Beware of this terrible superstition: When a person is suffering, people sometimes assume that God may be punishing him or her for some sin, so he or she deserves that suffering. We see that assumption in John 9:1-3. Luke 13:1-5 relates how Jesus strongly repudiated that assumption. And Jesus’ acts of mercy toward “untouchables” repudiated that assumption. Therefore, one of the most hurtful things you could do would be to state or imply blame for the suffering.

The book of Job reveals a lot about what to do and what not to do. Job’s three friends came to Job to “mourn with him and to comfort him” (Job 2:11). They “wept” (verse 12). “So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him” (verse 13). So far, so good! That must have been very comforting to Job. But after that, they greatly added to Job’s emotional suffering. Most of the rest of the book relates their accusations that Job must have been guilty of doing sinful things.

Another mistake is to speak of grieving as something that should be short-lived. Statements such as, “You’ll soon feel better” or “Don’t be so sad. You’ll see her again in the resurrection,” or “You need to cheer up” are highly insensitive. People have good intentions but they often add to a grieving person’s pain.

A grieving person is trying not to forget the loved one and usually wants to share precious memories with others! This lesson was impressed on me when I was 11 years old and my three-year-old brother Roddy died. That was devastating to our family. My mother desperately wanted to talk to her friends about her memories of Roddy but her friends would change the subject! They thought they were doing her a favor by helping her to “get her mind off of Roddy.” This was extremely frustrating and discouraging to my mom.

There is a serious problem with the famous “stages of grief” that supposedly progress in a straight-line sequence from the event that caused the grief to complete recovery. That is not realistic. Often a few hours of relative peace are followed by a crashing wave of grief. After a great loss or trial, there is often some grief for the rest of the person’s life.

If and when you have great sorrow, seek out truly sympathetic friends who are good listeners and are not judgmental. Many grieving people join a support group for a while, and many benefit from recording their intimate thoughts. King David certainly wrote about his griefs in some of the Psalms.

It’s a great blessing to be surrounded by thoughtful, sympathetic and loving people who understand the Bible and who have God’s Spirit. For example, those of us who have experienced major trials are amazed and inspired by the large number of get-well cards and/or sympathy cards we’ve received, many with wonderfully worded hand-written notes.

Much more can be said about these subjects. Many large helpful books have been written on the subjects of grieving and being a true friend to those who are grieving.

However, much of that is summed up by these words: Weep with those who weep.

This article is the first in a two-part series focusing on the directive given by Paul in Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” The next issue of United News will feature part two, titled “Rejoice with those who Rejoice.” The next article can be found here: ucg.org/members/united-news/rejoice-with-those-who-rejoice.