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What Should Christians Say to Someone Who Is Grieving?

What Should Christians Say to Someone Who Is Grieving?

“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring--what your life will be! For you are like vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes.” (James 4:14)

Far too many of us fail to recognize an important truth--no day of life is guaranteed. Our lives are ephemeral, always coming to an eventual end. Still, unless we see the end coming, we expect tomorrow. We expect to wake up to the morning sun and live yet another day of life. And not just for ourselves, but also for those we know.

Only when reality reasserts itself, do we once again accept the truth--our days are numbered. Not only will we eventually die, but so will those we know. In these episodes of inevitable loss, we find ourselves hit with an emotion both common and intense. Grief.

This emotion is characterized as a state of sadness that prevails in our lives for an undetermined amount of time. How long we hurt depends on the depth of our pain. When we experience grief, we can find ourselves with a lack of words, crying, depressed, isolating, and even thinking suicidal ideations.

These personal experiences help us to recognize the same emotion in others. However, despite the familiarity, we often have less understanding of how to respond to someone else’s grief.

Maybe we want to take their pain away, but understand we aren’t God.

Maybe we want to spend time with them, but they asked for space.

Maybe we want to converse with them, but realize they don’t have much to say.

What is the correct response? Is there such a thing?

There is a correct answer. In part, this depends on the person mourning, but there is a common answer helpful in most situations. What we say to someone who is grieving should be proportional to their level of grief. Less is often more, or in other words, the greater the grief, the less you say.

Scripture helps us get to this realization, and shows us how to better cope with grief for ourselves and in support of others. Not only that, but the Bible helps us understand how to better appreciate the present day, and not in anticipation of tomorrow.

What Does the Bible Tell Us about Grief?

The Bible is no stranger to grief. Many figures within the text have experienced this emotion. Men and women have felt sorrow as a result of death, sickness, or temptation. Their stories make clear that grief is a part of the human experience. And just as we are made in God’s image, God is no stranger to grief either.

When the Lord saw that human wickedness was widespread on the earth and that every inclination of the human mind was nothing but evil all the time, the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and he was deeply grieved. (Genesis 6:5-6)

One of Scripture’s most noteworthy stories about grief is delivered in the Book of Job. In this particular tale, we read about a man distinguished from his generation due to his godly character and wealth. Despite his righteous character, he loses all that he owns, and is even stricken with sickness. How does Job respond? He heavily laments (Job 1:20-21).

There is no indication as to how long Job’s suffering lasted. Given his circumstances throughout the forty-two-chapter book, we can imagine that he was troubled for years.

What we can also deduce from Job’s story is that while grief is natural, grief is not the end of our story. Grief was not the end of Job’s story, but rather an intermittent phase between two parts of his life. Grief represented a low moment in his life, but after a time, the low moment passed. Job was restored (Job 42:10-16).

Job’s story serves as an insightful indicator for our own. Grief is not the end of our story no matter what we are facing, death, sickness, loneliness. We have plenty of reasons to grief, but also reasons for hope.

“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

“Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy.” (Psalm 126:5)

What to Say to Someone Who Is Grieving

What exactly do we say to the grieving widow or father who just lost his child? Scripture informs us that words have the ability to bring health to the body (Proverbs 16:24). Words have the potential to bring healing and even direction to those dealing with grief.

One customary approach to grief is expressing condolences. We may say to the grieving widow or grieving father, “I’m sorry for your loss.” This simple, but meaningful statement indicates sympathy for the other person. This line can be especially powerful if we ourselves have dealt with the same hardship. From here, we can say as little or as much as the situation requires. Words can heal, but words can also hurt (Psalm 52:4). We should not risk saying something that would worsen the situation. Keeping our words concise helps accomplish this.

One guiding principle to know if we should offer more words of encouragement is if we can empathize with the situation. A parent who has already lost a child can easily relate to another parent in that predicament. The same goes for one widow conversing with another. Experience allows for empathy, not just sympathy.

In situations where we are not able to talk, or shouldn’t, we do have the option of finding non-verbal ways to show support. These acts of service include:

  • Buy or make a sympathy card
  • Purchase flowers
  • Bring meals to their home
  • Clean their house

  • Run errands on their behalf
  • Be present
  • Call to say hello
  • Pray with them and for them

Whether we speak or act, there is always something we can do for someone grieving. Let’s do our part to ensure our service is open to being received beforehand.

A Sobering and Thankful Conclusion

“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring--what your life will be! For you are like vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes.” (James 4:14)

Jesus was not exaggerating when we explained the brevity of our lives. When we witness a vapor in the air, we see the mist only for a moment. Then the gas is gone, no longer visible. Our lives follow the same order. We are born, we live, and we’re gone. And with every moment of loss, our lives or someone else’s, there will be grief.

While we can leave an impact on the world, that is the only sense of immortality we will ever achieve. This is not bad news. We don’t have the promise of infinite life, but God does offer salvation for when our days end (Psalm 3:8).

Moreover, Scripture gives us reason to be thankful for the days we do have, even when our days include grief. Understanding that no day is guaranteed gives us a greater appreciation of the days God has given. We better appreciate the roles we played in our lives, and the roles we played in theirs.

When loss is experienced, we can approach people with the same hope God has given us. We can speak with as few or as many words as the situation requires. We all know grief, and can thus learn how to better help others.

Yes, our days are numbered. Yes, we will all eventually die, but God has given us today. May we make the most of today and not let grief have the last word. Because there is a God, there is hope.

Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.” (Psalm 90:12)

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

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aaron brown profile pic bioAaron D'Anthony Brown is a freelance writer, hip-hop dance teacher, and visual artist, living in Virginia. He currently contributes work to iBelieve, Crosswalk, and supports various clients through the platform Upwork. He's an outside-the-box thinker with a penchant for challenging the status quo. Check out his short story “Serenity.”