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Being with and speaking with grieving friends

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The Bible tells us to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep. How can we better be with those who grieve? With friends and family in our church family who have experienced loss in recent days and years, how can we better seek to care for those who suffer the sorrow of departed loved ones?

Being with and Speaking with Grieving Christian Friends 

Christ’s Example in His Own Hour of Need And What He Does for Ours

Matthew 26:37–38 says Jesus ‘began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to  them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” (NKJV) 

The Lord Himself in His humanity felt this and it was not wrong nor did He need friends to 'fix it.' But He needed them to stay with Him and watch with Him as the flesh is weak.

Isaiah 53: “it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief … a man of sorrows  and acquainted with grief … Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (ESV) 

Jesus knows experientially what no one else knows and bears and carries crushing loss.

The Lord’s Wisdom in Relating to the Grieving 

There is a time for everything… a time to heal… a time to build, a time to weep and a time to  laugh, a time to mourn…a time to embrace… a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to  speak, a time to love…” (Eccl. 3 NIV). Romans 12:15 “…mourn with those who mourn.” 

James 1:27 says pure religion is ‘to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction’ (KJV). - ‘visit’ can be translated ‘look after, look on with mercy, pay attention to, examine carefully,  show care for, take care of, visit graciously, go to help,’ etc. ‘affliction’ can be translated  ‘distress, anguish, affliction, need, trouble, fears within, what causes pain, pressure,’ etc. 

Isaiah 35: ‘Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those… "Be  strong; fear not! Behold, your God…" …sorrow and sighing will flee away…’ (v. 3-4, 11 ESV)  

Colossians 4:6: Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you  may know how to answer everyone. (NIV). v. 5 adds ‘be wise’ and v. 3 adds ‘pray for us’ 


Nancy Guthrie knows experiencially of loss in her own family and with her own children. She has a helpful book What Grieving People Wish You Knew About What Really Helps and What Really Hurts. Here is a 20-minute introduction well worth listening to.

Below are some portions from her book I've found helpful:

Excerpts from Gospel Coalition blog: Some of the most awkward social interactions happen at funerals.  What do you say? How can you make the grieving feel better? We all want to be the person who says the  perfect thing. On the flip side, we don’t want to be the person who says the wrong thing. Trying to find  the right words or actions to console someone who’s lost a loved one seems so elusive. Or maybe you  know what it’s like to be the mourner. You’ve cringed at the sappy, pseudo-spiritual jargon someone has  tried to comfort you with. You’ve noticed how people try to avoid you because of the awkwardness  caused by grief. You just wish they’d be there for you and know how to comfort you well. 

… We all know someone struggling with grief  over the death of a loved one, and we all know what it’s like to want to help but not know what to say or  do… Guthrie—a Bible teacher who with her husband, David, cohost the GriefShare video series— recounts how she used to be among the ignorant when it came to consoling grieving friends, until death  struck her own family … Guthrie was on the receiving end of both helpful and hurtful—though all well meaning—family members and friends who wanted to console her. She then realized the need to develop  some type of resource that would aid those who sought to comfort … to help us know how to engage the  grieving in a helpful rather than hurtful way. One doesn’t need a counseling background or an advanced  education in order to understand and apply the principles … Our goal in speaking isn’t to remove the pain  or grief, but to enter into the grievers’ pain and assure them they’re not alone.

Guthrie not only outlines the dos and don’ts of speaking, but she also provides usable guidelines on  specific words and actions that have proven beneficial to mourners … Just show up, listen more than talk,  don’t assume anything … she includes a chapter on how to use social media properly to reach out to the  grieving …

These guidelines aren’t just for the immediate aftermath of the death, but for the weeks,  months, and even years following. Guthrie reminds the reader that grief is a long process and that the  grieving will always sense the loss in one way or another, no matter how much time has passed … One of  the most helpful resources is the final chapter, which covers common questions ranging from depression  to anger toward God. It even includes some of the Scripture passages mourners say have been most  meaningful in their grief. For Christians who want to learn how to better serve and love those in their  community who are grieving, Guthrie’s book is an insightful resource. She not only provides needed  guidelines, but she also gives us an insider’s look into the heart and mind of those walking through the  trenches of sadness... 

Chapter 1 excerpts – what to say: ‘the first and most important thing … is this: It matters less what you  say than that you say something … Your purpose in saying something is to enter into the hurt with them  and let them know they are not alone … Really, you just have to show up and say very little … that you  will be willing to hurt with them. That’s what makes a great friend in the midst of grief! He or she comes  alongside and is willing, at least for awhile, to agree that this is terrible … Not suggesting you should be  grateful … at least not yet … what you might say when the time comes?

It depends on the nature of your  relationship …

It depends on where that person is in the process of grief …

Let the grieving person take the  lead

Don’t ask potentially painful questions out of curiosity …

Don’t assume Don’t compare …

Don’t  make it about you (“Well, I …” or “When I …” or “I remember…” or “My…”) …

Don’t feel the need to  fix … Don’t be in a hurry … Listen more than you talk …

Don’t tell them what to do … Esteem their grief  (don’t dismiss or minimize it) …

Don’t be put off by tears (Romans 12:15 “weep with those who weep”) 

Chapter 2 excerpts – typical things people say (and what you can say instead): ‘Instead of saying,  “You’ll be fine,” you might say: “I can’t imagine how hard things are for you right now. I want you to  know I’m going to be here with you…And I’m going to believe with you—even when, and especially when  it is hard to believe—that God is going to give you the grace you need to face every day, whatever it brings 

…Instead of saying…pretty much anything that starts with “Well at least…,” … what they want are friends  who are willing to sit with them in the darkness, feeling the weight of the loss with them … what they need  is time and freedom to lament their loss. When one of those “Well, at least…” thoughts runs through your  mind, let it stay there… if the grieving person says something that begins with “At least…” you can agree!  As they…seek a heart of gratitude, you can affirm their conclusions. Just don’t be the first to say it… 

Instead of saying…“Just call me if you need something”…they need for you to figure out what they need  and just show up and take care of it instead of waiting for them to call…Grieving people are not going to  call if you if they need something …Call them and tell them you’d like to… 

Instead of asking, “How are you?” you might ask: “What is your grief like these days?” This question  assumes that it makes sense that the person is sad and gives them the opportunity to talk about it…you  might ask…“Are there particular times of day or days of the week you’re finding especially hard…without  [name of person who died]…” Keep on saying the name of the person who died. It is music to the grieving  person’s ears…you might ask…“Are there particular things I could be praying for you as you go through  this time of grief?” … “I know [the holidays/Mother’s Day/Father’s Day/anniversary] is coming up. I will  be especially thinking of you and praying for you as that approaches. We would love to have you over…”


Phil's note: Another helpful resource building on these principles and other biblical categories is by a friend and fellow pastor who has spoken at GCBC in the past, Brian Borgman. His two messages below were very insightful and impactful to help us all grow in these things.

Ministering-Those in Grief, 1 | Grace Community Church (

Ministering-Those in Grief, 1 | Grace Community Church (



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