Grieving People Need More than Your Thoughts

Happily going about an ordinary November day, I felt the weight of my grief materialize as the first Christmas songs hit my ears. The holidays are here, but my mother is not. The sharp ache of missing Mom ailed me again as I dread her absence at upcoming gatherings.

Though it’s been over two years since Mom went home, there are moments that make our loss feel like it was yesterday. Remembering the time that’s passed underscores God’s faithfulness through his people who have shouldered our family’s pain. It makes me want to do likewise. As the body of Christ, we can do more than just “think of” those who are grieving this Christmas. We can seek to comfort them like Christ comforts us. Here are five practical ways.

1. Ask about their grief.

The Bible explicitly tells us to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). If we’re to take that instruction seriously, we’ll seek to anticipate the times our brothers and sisters are weeping. We know weeping is likely as the holidays approach and traditions highlight gaping absences in our homes.

But what should we do if our grieving friends or family members never bring up their loss? Keep in mind that talking or not talking about grief is an unreliable indicator of pain; some of the people in the greatest pain may be quiet about it. Grieving people may lack the words, strength, or headspace to initiate discussing their loss, but they likely hope you’ll remember.

Prayerfully letting the Spirit lead, you can gently acknowledge you’re sorry for how much she’s missing a loved one. You can send a card saying so or providing a memory of the person she lost. Or you can simply ask “How are you doing with grief as the holidays approach?” Her response can help you navigate your next step. At the very least, you reminded her she’s seen. And if a grieving person begins to share, we should be honored to linger and listen.

2. Remember for the long haul.

Notice that Romans 12:15 doesn’t put time limits on our weeping with others. Mere verses earlier, Paul reminds us to be patient in affliction (Rom. 12:12). It would be myopic to assume this only applies to our personal afflictions and not the afflictions of our brothers and sisters. Just as the Spirit makes us patient in our personal afflictions, he helps us also to be patient in loving others who are afflicted.

While the outpouring of love and support around the date of loss is indescribably beautiful and helpful, the marathon of grief that takes place long after the shock subsides demands our weeping with others be long-suffering. God never grows weary or faint, and he can renew our strength as comforters—even many years and holiday seasons into a dear one’s loss (Isa. 40:28).

3. Stop by.

One of the most meaningful comforts during my first Christmas after losing Mom was a group of family and friends who unexpectedly showed up on my lawn and sang to me. I still weep at the memory of how incredibly low I felt and how overwhelmingly loved I felt. This is the comfort of Christ in our sorrow! His unfailing love supports us (Ps. 94:18).

If showing up unannounced seems impolite, we can make ourselves available to those grieving through repeated offerings. With the offer of coffee dates. With an invitation to dinner at our house. With a text that says, “I’m going to drop some food on your porch at this time and if you want to chat, that’s great. If not, no pressure.” You’d be surprised how many times the grieving recipient opens the door and wants a hug.

Even if there’s little or no response to our offerings, Christ can still comfort through us by the sheer pursuit of another in pain. And we need not be offended if our offers are rebuffed, because we aren’t doing it for ourselves (Phil. 2:4).

4. Stay flexible.

One of the greatest mercies I’ve received in my grief is flexibility from others. We can’t avoid making plans for holiday gatherings—how else would they come about? And yet, we can’t avoid the unpredictability of grief—how can we know how sad we’ll feel when it comes time for the family gathering? Holding plans loosely for those grieving is one of the kindest responses to another’s pain. Letting him know there are no expectations also keeps us humble, tender, compassionate, and submitting to the One who has the ultimate plan anyway.

5. Pray for them.

It’s not enough to be “thinking” of a grieving person during the holidays. Our greatest work on his or her behalf is intercession to the ultimate Comforter whose peace guards hearts and minds and transcends all understanding (Phil. 4:7).

Set a daily reminder in your phone. Scribble a prayer for her and set it by your kitchen sink. Write his name on a bookmark in your Bible. Loss can be particularly glaring during the holidays. But the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort cares for those who are grieving—and invites us to participate in this care.

Author: Paige Pippin.

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