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Listen while you read: "Christ For The World We Sing"1 (Lyrics)
John 11:21 – Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died." (NLT)
Tragedy had struck. What could I say?
As a minister, I've watched people endure their share of tragedy. A husband whose wife decided to drive drunk, leading to the death of their small child. A father whose daughter was innocently riding her bike through their subdivision and was hit and killed. Good friends whose daughter tried to ride a bicycle that was too large and accidentally rolled into the path of an oncoming truck. A couple whose child was born prematurely and languished in the neonatal intensive care unit for months and then grew up mentally challenged.
I've probably been guilty of saying it, but even if I haven't, I've heard many others say those infamous words, "I know how you feel" or "I know what you're going through." Those innocent words may be spoken with good intentions, but they are words that mean little if anything to those who are grieving — and perhaps questioning God at the same time.
Mary and Martha were probably feeling a little confusion themselves. Their brother, Lazarus, was sick. So, they sent for Jesus, thinking that He would heal him. Instead of coming immediately, Jesus waited until Lazarus had died. Martha was confused.
Even if I've experienced something similar to what others are going through, saying "I know how you feel" isn't the best response to their grief. I don't know how they feel. I know how I felt, but I can't get inside of their bodies and experience their emotions. The statement usually falls on deaf ears. They may also perceive the words as an empty platitude that means nothing.
When people are grieving, spending time with them and saying little is a good practice. If I feel the need to speak, saying, "I can't imagine what you're going through," or "How can I help?" are appropriate things to say. Better yet is thinking of some way to help without asking the person. In their state of mind, they usually can't think of what they need anyway. If I have experienced something similar to their tragedy, I can always tell my story and share how God brought me through.
Let us depend on God to give us the right thing to say when we're helping a grieving person.
Prayer: Father, as You comfort us in our times of grief, so give us wisdom to know how to help others in their times of grief. Amen.
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Good insight Martin, thank you.
Well said, Martin, and those of us who have family and friends in Houston especially need this message.
Thanks Martin for sharing these words of wisdom with us. When appropriate and after asking for permission, a hug can help. Keeping a box of paper tissues handy helps, too. Blessings.
Good words as usual, it is so easy to say “I know how you feel”, when we really don’t.
Thank you for writing.
How well said, and how it needs to be said and heard. Thank you!
Amen and thank you for putting these thoughts into words. There are times when the very fact that you are left speechless says it all. And … at times when there are no words, only a hug will do.
Blessings on your day.
Thank you Martin,
Today’s devotional reminds me of a very important learning experience I had many years ago when my husband and I attended the wake for the husband of one of his work colleagues. I had no idea what to say to the widow and assumed that was because I was young and had little experience with such situations.
As I approached her I said, “I don’t know what to say.”
She responded, “There is nothing to say. You’re here and that’s what matters.”
Not long after that my husband entered the ministry and that lesson has proved invaluable over the years.
You are right to say that ‘I know how you feel’ is not a helpful thing to say. However, beware turning the attention of the conversation to yourself. What the person needs most is your attentive listening. Later maybe there will be a chance to offer your story, but doing so now may close down the conversation and make them wary of talking about their situation. So, don’t be afraid to reflect back and encourage them to continue talking, answering any questions briefly and in a way that hands back the agenda to them.
You may feel that isn’t enough, but faced with another’s suffering that is a natural way to feel. You are showing you care by giving your time and often that is just what they need.
The worst thing we can do in these circumstances is avoid conversations because we think we do not know what to say. Such actions will exacerbate the isolation that person feels.
Martin – you hit the nail right on the head with this one.
Martin Wiles, you set me thinking. Maybe we can say, “I am praying for you.”
Thanks, Martin. Grief is such an anomaly! We don’t know how others feel when they grieve. But surely God does.
Keep writing and sharing your devotionals.
God bless you.
Good Morning Martin:
A message that indeed makes us aware of the fact “we must be cautious in what manner we show our sympathy to those who grieve”. You’re correct, those who have lost a child often feel we understand how those who are touched by the loss of a loved one or dear friend feel. But, really we don’t.
I personally was in a daze for months and often wondered if the sun would seem bright and dear to me again… But God is so good and so loving, He truly picked me up and guided me through my hurt and despair by allowing me to touch the hem of his beautiful garment and walk even closer to Him day in and day out. Sometimes folks would say “I know just how you feel” and I would say, to myself, only my heavenly father knows how I feel.
A beautiful message of caution for all.