The question of what to say to someone after the loss of a loved one will forever be one of the first of many prayers on the lips of grieving family and friends, and rightly so. We are told in John 14:26 that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate Comforter. It is therefore only with spiritual discernment, supernaturally supplied in each unique situation, that we will truly know what will both encourage & sustain each grieving soul. I believe Job provides such an eloquent reply to this important question after he experienced profound loss and sat for days with “friends” who turned out to be miserable comforters. Listen to Job’s gracious description of the parameters he would place on his words if the tables were turned and he was the one offering comfort to the grieving.
[But instead] I could strengthen and encourage you with [the words of] my mouth, And the consolation and solace of my lips would soothe your suffering and lessen your anguish. Job 16:5
Gift of Presence
Let’s be honest, many times in the early stages of loss it is so hard to sift through and discern exactly which thoughts (if spoken) would in fact soothe the suffering and lessen the anguish of those who have just experienced the death of a loved one. This is why we should never underestimate the simple gift of presence as one of the most comforting ways you and I can minister to the hearts of those who are grieving a loss. We read this in Paul’s encouragement in Romans 12:15b “…to weep with those who weep [sharing others’ grief].” We actually see Jesus doing this in the account of the death and resurrection of Lazarus in John 11. When He (Jesus) saw the sorrow Lazarus’ death caused, we read in verse 35, “Jesus wept.” Words of comfort do play a role when the time is right in offering hope to those whose hearts have been crushed by loss. However, in those early days, fewer words with a prayerful, quiet and yet supportive presence may find the greatest welcome amongst hurting hearts.
Go and Be
At this point in my life, I have walked alongside two precious grief-stricken families so close to mine that it felt like they were my own flesh and blood. Within hours of their greatest loss, I found myself sitting in their presence with so much love, compassion and comfort in my heart that if I could have literally taken their place and carried the loss for them in that moment, I wouldn’t have hesitated. In both situations, I could not shake the prompting of the Holy Spirit to just “go and be”. Be what? Even as a counselor, I had no idea what I would say or do; however, I found that just showing up and sitting, and listening, and serving any way I could provided a most comforting reminder that my dear friends from day one would never walk their path of loss alone.
Pray Before You Speak
The apostle Paul offers some final guidance you can use to filter through all the thoughts that might be racing in your mind as you sit and listen to friends and loved ones process their grief in the early stages. This would be a constant prayer on my lips before I shared anything that I thought the Holy Spirit may be prompting me to say,
… but only such speech as is good for building up others, according to the need and the occasion, so that it will be a blessing to those who hear [you speak]. Ephesians 4:29b
Your prayer could sound something like this: “Holy Spirit, you are our perfect Comforter. You know just what is needed at this moment and what words would be a blessing to those who hear. I truly want to share the comfort you have given me with _______ (2 Cor. 1:4). I ask that the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be pleasing in your sight Lord, you are our Rock and our Redeemer (Ps. 19:14). Father, please allow any words I speak to soothe hurting hearts and encourage hope in You.” In Jesus name, Amen.