I rounded the corner quickly, hurrying to get to Sunday school class on time. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed her, a friend, a surrogate mother and grandmother. Her back was facing me and she was about to go into the worship service. It occurred to me that though I had seen her recently, it was always in passing and I hadn’t gotten a chance to give her a hug. I hesitated. I was in a hurry and she was about to leave, but the Holy Spirit compelled my steps to turn. I went to her and gave her a hug. It was as I was saying, “I just want you to know how much I love you”, that I noticed her tear streaked cheeks. Tears began to fall down my cheeks too, because while our grief is different, we both share the pain of loss and the sorrow of a life we didn’t choose.
This widow didn’t want to go sit in another church service alone. While I can’t relate, I can understand. I know the hurt and isolation that normal situations can cause when holding grief. My flesh wanted to drop everything and sit with her. I wanted to stay with her the rest of the day. I wanted to invite her to move in with us. I wanted to do anything to fix her pain and ease her grief. But if I’ve learned anything in the last eight months, it’s that grief is not meant to be fixed, it is meant to be carried.
Grief is not meant to be fixed, it is meant to be carried.
Grief is uncomfortable and suffering makes people feel anxious. As a society we avoid sorrow and heartache at all costs, and I’m afraid that the church has taken it’s cue from culture instead of Scripture. I stand convicted of the times I was so unsure of what to do when I was presented with someone else’s grief and hurt, that I did nothing at all. I talked around and ultimately ignored the sorrow of others. But sometimes I did too much. I tried too hard to fix or take away the grief. Grief is not something we fix, move past or get over. Grief is to be carried.
In the last several months I have had people ask what they can do to help us or even how they can help others who are grieving. I’m not an expert and I certainly know that everyone’s grief journey is different, but I’m willing to offer you what I know and what I have learned. Jesus carries our grief and as his body we should do the same.
Surely he [Jesus] took our infirmities; and carried our sorrows.Isaiah 53:4
Heavy is the word I have used most often to describe our grief. I think grief changes over time in part because we develop stronger muscles to carry the grief. Some days my muscles are more weary than others and I need more help. But if my sorrow and grief is a direct correlation to how much I love my daughter, I don’t want my grief fixed or taken away. It’s a tie that binds and I won’t accept it being remedied or removed, but I might need help carrying it every now and then.
I won’t go into specifics of tangible things you might do for a grieving person, there are plenty of articles and resources online. I will tell you we have had so many people help to carry our grief at different times and I’m incredibly grateful. We have also had plenty of people try to fix our grief, which falls flat of expectations and sometimes does more damage. I would like to address the church specifically and I will appeal to those that identify as followers of Christ. Listen to the Holy Spirit and allow him to order your steps. When the Spirit prompts, follow His lead. Acting out of good intentions is not enough. To those of you that feel this is some over spiritual cop out, you might not be aware of the power of the Holy Spirit.
When the Spirit prompts, follow His lead. Acting out of good intentions is not enough.
A few weeks ago I received a long sleeve t-shirt from a friend. It was a seemingly small gift given for no specific reason. The weather was getting cooler and my friend said she thought of me and felt like she should give it to me. I know this was the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Call me crazy, but I have my favorite t-shirts. One of my most favorite t-shirts is a long sleeve, soft, green shirt that is well worn and comfortable. I used to wear it frequently on cool autumn and winter days. I was wearing that favorite shirt on February 24th. I cuddled my daughter and played with her for the last time while wearing that shirt. I also held my daughter’s lifeless body against that shirt. That was the last time I wore my favorite shirt. I will not likely get rid of or wear it again. As the weather has gotten cooler, I have thought about that shirt more and more. Then my friend gifted me with a new shirt and it was exactly what I needed. It wasn’t a solution or a quick fix. She wasn’t asking me to abandon my old shirt and the weight it now holds. In fact she didn’t know any of these things about my favorite shirt. It was instead the moving of the Holy Spirit, matched with the obedience of a dear friend making my grief not so heavy that day.
2 Corinthians 1 offers some insight in offering Christ led comfort. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:3-5) If you’re unsure what to do or say, pray and ask God to show you how you might help carry the grief of others. Sometimes carrying others’ grief is time consuming and messy. Sometimes it’s simply giving a hug, standing by a widow or giving a new t-shirt to a friend.