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How to Respond to the Grieving

11:52 AMHeather

When I was a 19-year-old college sophomore, I was quickly smitten by a pretty cute guy. And one of the main character traits that made me fall for him was how good he was at weeping with those who weep.

Yes, he was cute and funny and friendly. Well, beyond friendly. Because as soon as I start hanging out with him, I realized that I must've been the only one on Baylor campus who didn't already know him.  

He was smart and loyal and oh-so-many-things.

But the thing that made him stand out to me the most was how he wept with those who wept.  And trust me -- I should know. I often blog about grief and the grieving process. Sometimes, I wonder if I talk and write about it too much?

Yet, I prayerfully continue to address this topic for two reasons. My life was deeply impacted by a very profound season of grief when I was a college student. And, despite what felt like a head start on great loss, I've realized that none of us are immune to experiencing seasons of mourning. 

At a time in my life when I felt like a freak because of my sadness, my future husband hung in there with me. Seriously-- who decides they want to marry the girl who cries the ugly cry all the life-long day? 

When my peers were at a complete loss as to what to do with the heavy burdens I was carrying, Chris seemed to instinctively have the wisdom and the strength to stay close. To endure with me. To hand me the tissues, again and again. To hold my hand and hug my neck every time I needed it. He let me moan and wail and cry and despair. He came over late at night when I was distraught or literally sick from my grief, after a full day of classes and an evening of waiting tables, and he just stayed in my presence. 

The most beautiful gift that you can give a grieving person was given to me by the man I would eventually marry, back in our courting days. 

He stayed the course in the trenches of the muck and the mire. He stuck it out. 

Image courtesy of Unsplash

He's still doing it today. He still squeezes my hand tightly when my dad's favorite hymns are sung. He still offers a gentle smile when he knows something reminds me of past wounds. He still insists I wake him if insomnia and emotions hit late in the night. Just so he can sit with me, there in the quiet sadness, with whatever burden is causing me sleeplessness. 

My husband is so uniquely gifted at the lost art of weeping with others. He lives out one of the most incredible verses in the Bible.

He knows what Jesus would do. 

Because Jesus wept.

This two-word Bible verse can be taken too lightly. I believe it to be one of the most powerful and encouraging verses in the entire Bible. Because this verse assures us that in our seasons of weeping, we can be confident that we have a Savior who enters our weeping with us. Every. Single. Time. 

When we are mourning and under the crushing weight of loneliness that our pain often brings, John 11 gives us great hope. This story of the death of "the one Jesus loved" shines light into our darkest days.

Jesus waited two days before he responded to the request to come to the bedside of his sick friend. By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had already died. As his two sisters mourned, they each plainly told Jesus that if he had only come sooner, their brother wouldn't have died.  Maybe you can relate to this feeling that God isn't moving in your time of need and didn't come to your rescue. 

Mary was so distraught in her grief that she fell at the feet of Jesus and wept. 

"When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled," John 11:33 (NIV). 

And then, "Jesus wept," (verse 35).

Jesus knew from the start what was going to happen. He didn't cry because Lazarus was dead. For he knew that was only temporary. Jesus knew the victory was about to come through an incredible miracle. Jesus knew his Father could bring dead things back to life. Jesus knew that he, too, would be brought back to life and death would lose its sting, once and for all. Jesus was keenly aware of resurrection power.

The most marvelous thing about this verse is that Jesus wept because Mary wept. Jesus wept because the Jews with Mary -- her friends and family -- were also weeping. 

Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of the world, was deeply moved in spirit and troubled by the grief of his people. If you are hurting, let me assure you that He is the One who responds to our sadness and is moved by it. 

As Jesus wept, he exemplified what we are to do for the grieving. Jesus wept because being compassionate is not optional.

Weeping with those who weep is part of our identity in Christ.

We are clearly told in Romans 12:15 that we are to "rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep."  

Last week, I blogged about the lost art of celebrating others.  

This post is the sequel, as we look at the second half of that verse in Romans. 

The truth is that weeping with others is also a lost art, but it shouldn't be. It's not just for those who have the gift of mercy. 

Weeping with others is part of how we love one another. It is part of how we live out that commandment.

But, this idea of entering the grief of others is uncomfortable to us. Part of the problem is that we live in a culture that has no idea what to do with grief. We've lost grieving traditions and rituals, such as wearing black for a mourning period, outwardly expressing the inward feelings. In ancient times, they had sackcloth and ashes to give them a tangible way to respond to a distraught emotional state. We no longer have cultural norms to act as milestones for how to navigate the overwhelming seasons of loss. 

When someone you know is mourning or struggling for whatever reason, interactions with them can feel awkward to you. Trust me-- it feels ill-fitting and awkward to them, too. We have no "set" way to respond. So instead, we tend to revert to the easiest thing to do with the discomfort, which is simply to keep a safe distance.  

But we are called, as the body of Christ, to weep with those who weep. We are, in fact, commanded to do so.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way 
you will fulfill the law of Christ. 
Galatians 6:2

We neglect this calling because we don't know what to say. We don't know what to do. We are afraid to say the wrong thing, and we don't like doing things that are uncomfortable or hard.  

So we just don't do it.  

Let me tell you something, and be the absolute boss of you.

We gotta put our big kid pants on and get over ourselves. 

For the love of our Jesus who weeps with us, we must stick with the weeping. We must stay close to the hurting. We must show up in the pain. 

Here's a big tip for the first step in responding to the grieving. 

Words are actually not necessary. 

If you want to know the best thing you can do when someone you know is hurting, then it's as simple as what Jesus did in this situation.

Jesus wept.

So be moved by the pain of others.
Have the courage to enter it with them. 

Tell yourself, if necessary: this is not about me. 

Because one of the most beautiful ways that we exemplify the love of Jesus is to dare to sit in the sadness of others.  

We must simply obey. No excuses.

The only thing worse in seasons of hardship is when others are repelled by you because of your sorrow. This distancing multiplies the pain of your situation.

In contrast, the heavy weight of sadness is divided when we show up in the hospital waiting room. When we rush to the house of the grieving and sit on the couch next to them. When we are intentional and careful to just stay in it for the long haul with those who are hurting. 

The sadness felt through loss has no expiration date. There is no guide or text book. Grieving is not a task to check off the list and be done.

And, because we should expect it to linger, we have to brave enough to do the same.

Lingering with the aching is a precious and rare gift we can give, by just offering our presence and friendship, our love and our prayers. 

If you want to know how to help the hurting, you just do what Jesus would do. You do what Jesus actually did.

You weep with the weeping.

Plain and simple. That's it. That's all that is necessary. You enter their grief and choose to be brave enough to let it move you.

For our God is the God who is close to the brokenhearted.

And we, therefore, must do the same. 

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