Grief is a human experience, and yet it is something that far too many believers and churches struggle to embrace. It is uncomfortable. No matter its source, grief brings up questions and challenges our beliefs.
Augustine, commenting on a passage from Paul (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14,) says,
“You should not grieve as the heathen do who have no hope, because we have hope.”
We are to grieve with hope, yes, but far too often, believers try to skip the grief part and move straight to hope. One of the best things we can do as the Church is better learn how to support those who are going through grief. Although there are many ways you can equip others in your church wrestle with grief well, here are five good places to start.
1. Offer Grief Groups
Grief presents in so many different and unique ways that it is easy to feel very isolated alone while grieving. Whether it is losing a loved one, going through a prolonged illness, or losing out on a dream or a job, or anything else, that pain can make anyone feel like they are the only one who understands what it is they are going through. The feeling that you must carry this burden alone is one of the most difficult parts of the grieving process.
But it’s not true.
You are not alone in your grief. Just as Jesus offers to shoulder our burdens (Matthew 11:28), the Church is also called to shoulder the burdens of others. Grief groups provide the perfect place to do this. The Groups can be as broadly aimed or as specific as needed for the size of your faith community, but consider asking those who have walked through grief in the past if they would be willing to spend time with others experiencing the same pain.
2. Avoid “Spiritual Sayings”
The Bible is full of comforting statements, but they may not feel as comforting as you might think. Verses like,
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:28.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds… -James 1:2
These lovely and godly words, as Holy Spirit inspired as they are, can fall flat and feel more like a sort of spiritual quick fix.
Grief is a more often a process, and shortcut statements like these can often short-circuit someone’s journey and make them feel as though they are not allowed to go through the process at their own speed or in their own way. When wielded without care, spiritual sayings can make someone feel even more isolated and misunderstood.
3. Allow for questions, discomfort, and emotional release
Grief is messy, and it can make people question everything they hold onto, including their faith. It can even make them question the goodness of God. This is something that many Christians feel uncomfortable with, but the Bible shows that there is room for it.
King David, the writer of much of the Psalms, penned verse after verse of lament and doubt. And yet, he was still called,
“A man after God’s own heart.” -1 Samuel 13:14
By providing a welcoming space for real expressions of grief, we can draw people into community rather than drive them out.
4. Meet immediate needs
Loss is difficult enough to navigate emotionally, but it often comes with additional physical or material needs. These needs can leave people feeling like they are drowning.
People often say, “Let me know if you need anything,” but for a person in the midst of grief, it is difficult to remember to reach out or to feel collected enough to ask for help. One way to prepare for this is to create a specialized group in your church that is ready at any moment to mobilize and coordinate meals, child care, financial help, or any material aid that is needed.
Present options so the person in need doesn’t always have to ask.
5. Prepare for the long haul
Although it can shift and change, grief is a long process. Depending on the source, it may be with someone their entire life. As the church, we have to be prepared to sit with others as long as it takes. Many people who are grieving already feel like a burden. By placing a timeline on them, we could make them feel like they are no longer welcome to share their feelings and circumstances.
At Paper Giants, we want to help you better tell the stories of how your church is helping the people in your community through grief and difficult situations. The more often your church tells these stories, the more inviting your church will become (especially to those far from God).
Not sure where to start?
Buy the Recharge Series and help your church walk through one of the most useful passages for addressing grief in all the Bible, Psalms 23.
Or subscribe to Sunday Storytellers, and get the Recharge series and many more just like it!
Emily Towns, Staff Writer, Paper Giants