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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