We’ve all been there. In the middle of a difficult season or while mourning a loss, we reach out for help. In general, we choose wisely, strategically opening our hearts to our closest kindreds. I’ll admit I’ve accidentally fallen apart to a not-so-strategic stranger. But, you get my point, in general, we choose whom to invite into our grief.
The grieving soul is tender ground. Anyone who has lived for more than five minutes knows that! The process of grief is sacred and to be carefully navigated.
Over the years I’ve noticed something about grief. It is almost as hard to watch someone you love suffer as it is to suffer yourself. To sit across from a friend sobbing over unjustified heartache or to walk with a loved one through pain when there is no end in sight is a gut-wrenching part of the human experience.
I don’t know about you, but I like to fix things. I’m actually pretty good at it! I am strategic, analytical, and dangerously persistent. I do not like when I cannot fix things! Can I get an Amen?! And, the worst things to not be able to fix are people’s hearts! To see my precious husband, friends, family, and clients, suffer in pain is the worst.
Yet, that’s often the reality. Of course, if there is anything I can do to lessen another’s grief; I do! But, if you’ve lived for another five minutes, you have probably learned at times there isn’t. I cannot heal the heartache from a friend’s broken marriage; I cannot comfort the depth of despair over a lost child; I cannot redeem another’s history of trauma.
You know what else really gets under my skin? When people try to fix my pain! Now, let me be clear- if they actually could, I’d be all about this! Deep down I know that no human can heal the grieving heart. That is a job only our Savior can do.
I’m sure you have experienced this phenomenon. You are knee-deep in grief just trying to get through the day, and someone dares to slap a little bit of well-intentioned advice on you. “Have you tried….?” “Have you read…?” “Are you talking to anyone about this?!”
Thanks, I feel so much better. It hadn’t occurred to me the way to bandage my pain is a best-seller. I’ll order it on Prime and be better in two days. Said no one ever.
Or, the affirmative platitudes! “God has a good plan.” “Someday you’ll understand.”
And, the silver-linings! “At least….” “Even in the midst of this horrible situation, I can see God’s hand in ….” “It could be worse.”
Yes. All those things hold some truth. Advice can be constructive. Often, platitudes are true, and there is always a silver lining.
However, these forms of support are rarely supportive. Instead, they can be dangerous. Often, they further isolate the grieving person. They can even make a person feel as if they are doing something wrong for not being able to tuck away their pain and soldier on. Not to mention, they quickly cause regret in the choice to open one’s heart.
We have all been there. Likely, many times over. And, we have all been the one doling out the book recommendations and slapping silver-linings all over a friend!
So, why do we do this?!
I honestly believe it’s because we so desperately wish we could lessen another’s pain. Again, if there were anything I could do to fix my peoples’ pain, I would! I’m sure you are the same. The fruitless efforts to “fix” grief usually come from a good place.
So, what the heck is helpful?! I’m so glad you asked.
As the person sitting across from the grieving friend, we seem to forget what was helpful when we were that grieving friend. Nonetheless, there is something that does offer a bit of salve.
The English word compassion comes from two Latin words. Cum, which means “with,” and pati, which means “suffering.” Compassion literally means to suffer with. Compassion isn’t about sympathetic feelings; it’s genuinely entering into the suffering with someone. It’s messy. It’s life on life. It’s you feeling sick to your stomach when those you love ache. It’s not an unhealthy enmeshment or over-attachment, but a choice to do life with those you love.
Only Jesus can truly heal (cure, restore, make better) our grieving hearts and broken lives. That is as true as the sunrise and sunset. However, as fellow sojourners in this life, we have something that can soothe pain. Heal, no. Soothe, yes.
When I stop to ponder what offered a breath of air when grief threatened to strangle, it doesn’t take long to recall. It was when my husband held me as I wept. It was when my friend got mad with me as I yelled choice words about an unjust situation. It was when a counselor validated my emotions as her eyes filled with tears mirroring my own.
Ladies, I love good advice. And I rely on others to remind me of truth when I cannot seem to locate it for myself. I practice gratitude (basically silver-lining my circumstances) as a coping mechanism every day.
Those are good things; we should keep doing them. But, if you are grieving, they are not going to console you. That isn’t their place, and they don’t have that power. On the other hand, having someone enter into your grief with you can offer solace.
We were not made to do this alone! That’s why sometimes we accidentally reach out to the random person looking for a bit of camaraderie! Humans were created to live in community. And not just when things are good! Not only at celebrations, or over a nice dinner, or when your kids are playing well together. We were intricately designed to need one another in the valleys as much as on the mountain tops. Let’s be real, even more in the valleys!
The temptation is to try and fix another’s pain. Yet, this never works. What does help is vulnerably choosing to be with your people where they are. If they are in the dark season of grief, go there with them. Allow yourself to cry and scream with them. How incredibly powerful it is to affirm their loss in this way. Hold onto hope and remind them of truth, of course. But, in the thick of it just be in the thick of it with them!
There is incredible power in allowing our compassion to knit us together. Don’t overlook this potential when your first instinct wants to fix another’s pain. Simply enter in with them, and let Him do the rest. Let’s be women who know how to grieve together.