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How to Give More than Hallmark to the Grieving

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  • Updated Oct 12, 2015

When someone you know is suffering, what is the first thing you say? It’s so easy to throw out a Hallmark-like sentiment, a Bible verse out of context, or a suggestion to help minimize the pain. What we say is often said with the best intentions, but what do those who are grieving and suffering actually need to hear from us?

Erik Raymond, senior pastor of Emmaus Bible Church and Gospel Coalition contributor, has written an article on this topic, titled Don’t Give Them Hallmark Platitudes. He categorizes our reactions to those who are grieving and suffering in 3 categories:

First, you can avoid them. It is painful and unsettling to see people hurting; it’s easier to just avoid it. Second, you can minimize it. Try to shrink down the effect of what is happening by contrasting it with something else. Third, you could trivialize it. This is perhaps the most common. Here we say a bunch of stuff that doesn’t make any sense or help. But, it’s ok since it is in a nice voice or because it comes in a card.”

Raymond says that staying away doesn’t help; no matter how uncomfortable it may be, we are called as Christians to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Rm. 12.15).” Minimizing grief can be more harmful than helpful; it’s important for Christians to express grief and acknowledge suffering. Lastly, Hallmark platitudes are nothing but nice wishes on the surface, and those who are suffering need more than just nice in their time of pain. Raymond recommends, “Instead of Hallmark give hurting people Habakkuk.”

He goes on to explain why Habakkuk is a prime biblical example for how God addresses suffering. In his article, Raymond shares 8 instructions from Habakkuk that we can share with those in pain. Here are 4 of those points:

1. Allow people to speak about their pain.
When someone is hurting, we often feel like we need to fill every pause or gaping silence with words of encouragement or helpful suggestions. As hard as it may be to sit back and listen, we need to provide a comfortable place for our friends and family to open up and share their pain. Just as Habakkuk vented his frustrations to God, Raymond advises, “We may be dropping Hallmark phrases or we might just ramble; either way we are not letting people talk it out. This is helpful for them.”

2. Give them Jesus.
Out of all the things you can give someone who’s going through a tough time (meals, cards, phone calls, visits, gifts, flowers, etc.), how often do we give them Jesus? We think of all the things we can provide…but what about the things that only God can provide? We learn in Habakkuk that God is not distant or uninterested; He is aware of everything that is happening, and He is in the midst of it all. Raymond suggests, “Help your hurting friends to fasten their hearts and hope upon God.” The hope of Jesus is what will get them through this time.

3. Banish the happiness illusion.
We can still have joy in times of suffering and sadness. Happiness does not dictate the comings and goings of joy. While happiness is tied to our ever-changing circumstances, joy is tied to our permanent identity in Christ. Raymond relays, “Joy is an abiding trust or confidence in the fact that God is God. He is in control and trustworthy.”

4. Put pain in the context of the gospel.
When everything seems bleak, the gospel still shines brightly as a beacon of hope. This is something we need to remind others and ourselves of in good times and bad. Raymond states,

Even though everything else falls apart the fact remains that God is the God of my salvation. When we think about the context of pain and suffering we have to remember that it is because of sin that it has come. God has come to rescue people from the effects of sin’s curse. He reconciles us to him and he makes a new creation. He loves us and saves us (Gal. 2:20). Put the suffering in context in order to showcase the glorious salvation that God has wrought. He will resurrect us and give us a new body that will not be plagued with sin, suffering and death.” Contributor Debbie McDaniel expresses this in her article The Reality of Grief:

Sometimes the process is slow. Brutally slow. It takes time. And more time. More time often, than others are even comfortable with. And you find there's a constant, deep searing pain that doesn’t go away with nice words uttered by friends and a new day dawning. You feel lost and alone, fully aware that it's hard for those on the outskirts of the journey to fully "get it," or understand what you're processing. Here's truth in it all. You're not alone. Ever. He whispers this to you today, as He holds your hand and dries your tears, never weary in sitting with you, close, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." Exodus 33:14

No matter how long the process may seem for someone who is hurting, remember this instruction from Erik Raymond:

Please don’t settle for Hallmark when people are hurting. Instead, take a look at a book like Habakkuk and see how big God is and how he has worked to secure our abiding joy in him.”

To read Raymond’s full article with all 8 instructions, please visit The Gospel Coalition.

For further reading:
7 Things Not to Say to a Grieving Person

Liz Kanoy is an editor for

Publication date: October 12, 2015