June 11, 2023

When Hearts Are Breaking

How to comfort effectively

Karen Holford
Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash

The phone rings. The news is shocking and devastating. Someone you know has lost a loved one. You want to let them know you care, but where do you start? How can you bring God’s love and care into the lives of those who are bereaved? Before you walk alongside a grieving friend, prayerfully reflect on your own beliefs about death, grief, and comfort. Have you ever experienced a bereavement? What emotions did you experience? How did you manage those feelings? What did people do and say that comforted you, and what made you feel worse? How did your relationship with God comfort you? Which Bible verses soothed your pain?

Perhaps you grew a protective shell around your heart to stop it from being hurt. Is it difficult to feel compassion for others because you were not shown compassion when you needed it? Where are you now on your journey through healing? These are important and challenging questions to ponder when we encounter grief in another person’s life. It is difficult for us to comfort others well when we have not received comfort ourselves.

The Living Source

Our loving Father knows we need comfort to help us process the extreme emotional pain of living in this broken world. God Himself is the source of this comfort. He is the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3, 4). Before we comfort our grieving friends, our own hearts need the comfort of our loving and compassionate Father, so that we can offer His healing comfort to others.

Imagine you are sitting in the lap of your loving Father, and you are telling Him about your deepest grief. He is filled with compassion for your painful loss. His loving heart is strong enough for all your complex emotions—anger, frustration, sadness, fear, confusion—and difficult questions.

As you express your messy emotions, He holds you close to His heart and whispers comforting words into your ear until your sobbing subsides, and you can hear His heart beating with love for you. He is the God who notices every tear that falls (Ps. 56:8), and longs for the day He will personally wipe away all your tears with His loving hands (Rev. 21:4). Once we have been comforted by God, we are ready to help Him comfort others. Jesus told His followers: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). And Paul told us to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).

Here are some helpful suggestions as you seek to comfort others:

Pray that you will be a channel of God’s loving comfort into their pain. Keep listening to what the Comforter is inspiring you to say and do.

Be with those who are grieving. Be God’s loving and comforting arms. If it’s appropriate, give them a hug. Tell them this is like a hug from God, to show how much He cares right now.

Listen first. Hear their story and listen to their emotions. Listen patiently, give eye contact, offer tissues, accept their confusion, anger, and deep grief. It is normal for people to use words they wouldn’t usually say. Let them go. Don’t judge people for what they say and do in their times of agonizing loss. It will only add to their pain.

Don’t offer explanations or advice. Don’t tell them to stop being sad because we have a future hope. This will not be helpful. A deeply grieving person finds it difficult to access their rational and hopeful brain. Their greatest need is for kind words and immediate actions that will soothe their pain and stimulate the release of oxytocin to help heal their heart. When someone tries to “fix” their sadness quickly, it usually causes more hurt, confusion, and grief. Unhelpful words can cause deep and memorable wounds that last a lifetime. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace [blessing] to the hearers” (Eph. 4:29).

Being present with your grieving friend is deeply comforting. Weeping with them is very healing. It shows that you share in their sadness and loss. “Mourning with” might sound like: “I’m so sad that you are so sad.” “Your loss touches my heart deeply.” “I don’t have the words to express how much I care right now. I just want to be here and feel it with you.” Keep it simple and honest. Better to be silent and sad with them than to speak and hurt them.

Each person’s journey through grief is unique, depending on how their family grieves, cultural expectations, personality, previous experiences with loss and comfort, and their personal experience of each loss. Don’t be alarmed by their strong feelings and words. Accept their feelings, and their up-and-down, back-and-forth journey through grief. Be there for them, through the years, when their sadness is triggered by something unexpected.

Imagine you are in their position and think about what you would need most. It may be helpful to offer two or three things you could do for them and let them choose which would be most helpful. One close person who checks in with their needs can often coordinate the most practical and compassionate care through the tragedy.

The journey through grief is a long one. Keep checking in regularly to listen to them, pray, and show care. Help them to experience moments of love, joy, and peace, even in their sadness, to give them hope and healing and sparkles of light in the darkness.

Reflect. What went well? How was the person blessed and comforted? What could I say or do differently next time? Pray “God, help me to be the best comforter I can be, with You, in the grieving places of this broken world. Amen.”