I first posted this in 2008 after a tough year of walking with several close friends through seasons of deep pain. My tendency at times, because I don’t know what to do, is often to do nothing at all. That is a big mistake. Silence, even if your motive is well-intentioned, can be the most hurtful response of all.
So here are a few thoughts on walking with a loved one through a season of deep pain.
1) There is a time to mourn. There is a time to weep. Ecc. 3:4
Some day in the future, there may be a time for advice or a time to try to cheer up. But respect the time to mourn. Weep with those who weep. I have noticed when I am seriously hurting, there are some people that I just can’t have around because their response is to either give advice or try to distract me from my pain. Instead, I have to walk through my pain, and I treasure those who have the love and patience to walk with me.
2) Be quiet.
Listen. Don’t talk. I don’t mean that we need to remain mute when coming alongside the hurting, but take seriously James 1:19, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” When your hurting friend speaks, you listen. You listen well and ask follow up questions. You don’t redirect the conversation away from your hurting friend and toward yourself. If your friend needs to talk through their pain, listen.
3) Don’t pretend the pain doesn’t exist.
This is particularly important when it comes to the death of a loved one. Don’t ignore the person who passed on in an effort to distract your friend. They are missing their loved one, and you can’t ignore them anymore than a big white elephant standing in the room. I remember meeting at a restaurant the parents of a friend who had died unexpectedly a few weeks before. We all talked like nothing had ever happened, and I regret to this day that I ignored the elephant in the room. I wish I had said simply, “I am so sorry for your loss,” and then given them a hug. I, of course, had no idea what to say, but I realize now that saying NOTHING was even worse.
If your friend miscarried her child, let her show you the hand made blanket she made for him. If she’s having problems getting pregnant, love her enough to check on her about that specifically. If her father died unexpectedly, don’t avoid mentioning the beauty of the deck he was building for her before he died. If her husband left her, give her room to be honest about her pain. Whatever the situation, don’t feel you have to do acrobatics to avoid the elephant in the room. If talking about their loved one fits the occasion, then do it.
3) When the time comes, speak the truth with love.
Support and encourage your loved one with the truth of God. But remember that speaking truth alone is not necessarily loving. If that were the case, Paul would have no need in Ephesians 4 to exhort us to both speak the truth AND speak lovingly. So point your friend to the character of God in loving ways. The way you say things and the empathy you show have power to minister grace to your loved one according to Paul’s instructions on language at the end of Ephesians 4. In times of pain, there is hope in the fact that God is sovereign and in control. But there is also questioning and pain. Wrestle with your loved one as they struggle with the sovereignty of God in the midst of their painful circumstances. Don’t cop out with easy answers or glib Christian sayings.
I don’t claim to be an expert on this by any means, but these are ideas that have been on my mind through times of my own pain and as I try to walk with other friends through theirs. I hope something here is helpful to you.