It matters that they lived, regardless how short the span. It matters on a scale of enormous significance that your friends’ loved ones drew breath for a wisp of time or for a lengthy chain of years. A life that was loved is worthy to matter to us, too.
On every side people are grieving, and we are allowed entrance into that sacred space where breathing has become an unbearable task. When a small child leaves shattered parents or elderly saints cross the threshold of heaven, those left behind are devastated. For them an earthquake has broken through their foundation, and the violent tremors have categorically toppled all sense of normal into mounds of debris that threaten to bury them alive. It matters that we care.
Be present for those suffering loss and do not withdraw like a timid cat simply because you are uncomfortable with their pain. This situation calls for lion-hearted courage. Come close and roar back the anguish that threatens to paralyze them. Send a loving text, a beautiful bouquet, or a generous gift card to a nearby restaurant to use when the idea of doing something as mundane as cooking lies beyond their scope of rational behavior.
Move toward those mourning as if acutely aware that your friends are sinking beneath horrific waves and you possess a vessel equipped with life-saving vests and sturdy preservers. Mow the lawn, plant flowers, clean the fridge, pay a bill, write a check, make a meal. Do anything you can possibly think of to express compassionate concern. At all costs, do not ignore their sadness. Your indifference doesn’t cause grief to evaporate into thin air.
When you don’t know what to say, when words seem clumsy, it’s ok. Use a few anyway: “I was thinking of you…. you have been on my mind…. how can I pray for you today…. I was wondering if you would share a favorite memory of your grandmother…. I want you to know I miss Scott too…. I wish I could make your pain go away…. Do you know hardly a week goes by that I don’t remember something Steve taught me…I’m so sorry you are so sad…. so very sorry.”
This is when less is more, when a few well-chosen words will minister but a bunch of them won’t. Now is definitely the wrong time to unload a lengthy dissertation on “all things working together for good” or to dump well-meaning Bible verses on top of their load. Sensitivity and silence are soothing. Chattering to fill the space and ease your own discomfort is unwelcome baggage. Keep that to yourself.
When your friends share their ache, listen as if your very life depended on it. Allow them to weep for as long as they must. Do not hurry them along as if sorrow was a scheduled stop in a stack of pressing appointments. Give your friends the freedom to agonize without jumping to the erroneous conclusion that their spiritual temperature is skewed. At present, you have not been asked to walk in their shoes. The road is harder than anything you could possibly imagine. Your friends need you by their side for as long as the journey will last. Stay close. One day they just might do the same for you.
Elizabeth Mitchell serves at Boca Raton Community Church along with her husband Pastor Bill Mitchell, and is part of the faculty of WorldLead, mentoring and training leaders worldwide. Visit her blog at Journeyfortheheart.com.