How to Talk to the Survivor
Elder Jeff Winfrey, Pastor
Dawson Springs Primitive Baptist Church
101 East Walnut Street
Dawson Springs, KY 42408
Just Being There
What do I say? What can I say? How can I help? Oftentimes when we come face to face with a friend or family member who has lost a loved one, we are at a loss for words. We deeply desire to say the right things so that we might be able to give comfort. Oh, how wonderful it would be if we only could give words of peace. But it seems that those perfect words always fail to come. And we are left with a feeling of helplessness as we face the grief of the moment.
Is there an answer to this feeling of helplessness? I believe that there is, but the answer may surprise you. For oftentimes especially in the early stages of grief, the best words are no words at all. And when words are spoken, it is usually better that they be few.
We feel like we should have words that will help ease the pain and grief of another. And if we are Christians (or especially pastors) we tend to feel these things more strongly. After all, God’s word even says that we should “be ready to answer.” But sometimes the best answer is to just be there. To let the one grieving know that you care by your presence is much more valuable than great proclamations about eternity or the goodness of God. Now these things are true and the time may come when they need to be said. But for the immediate the best approach may be to just hold hands and to look into the eyes. If the love and friendship you have for the one that grieves is real, this touch and look is worth a thousand words. And if you say anything at all, you may want to simply say, “I love you.”
The Gift of Listening
There are a few people that I have met in my life who have the gift of listening. And then there are many, including myself, who think that they have the “gift of gab.” Now the gift of listening is a wonderful thing to have. But the gift of gab is usually more of a problem than a gift. And those with this so-called gift of words need much self control to keep their tongues in check.
When we find ourselves alongside the grieving, we feel that it is our opportunity or even sometimes our duty to say something. We as Christians (and especially as preachers) sense that the time may be right to teach the wonderful truths concerning God. We may especially feel a need to speak, if we think that the one who grieves has said something that is inconsistent with our view of God. But there is a time for teaching and a time for listening, a time for correction and a time for patience. At the onset and during the initial phases of grief there may be much more wisdom in being a good listener than in being a teacher.
Job’s friends came to him in the midst of his despair. He had lost his wealth, his health and ten children. They came as so-called comforters, but in the midst of their session with Job is is said that they were “miserable comforters.” They spoke of things that they did not understand. And they attempted to judge Job and the words of Job. They were reprimanded by God with the words, “ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right.” They might have truly helped their friend more had they simply swallowed their tongues and been better listeners. May we learn from their mistake.
Your Help From Above
In the initial stages of dealing with grief, few words and much ‘just being there’ may be the best approach. But the opportunity to speak to the one who grieves may come as the days and weeks pass. How do I know when the time is right? If the time is right, how do I know what to say? These are questions to which I have no direct answers, but I do have some sound advice. For through the years I have learned some things that have helped me.
One time several years ago I was attempting to counsel a very troubled young lady. She even attempted suicide one evening while I was talking with her. At this turn of events I became a very troubled young preacher. I felt that her life was perhaps in my hands and I had no idea what to say next or which way to go. In my confusion I called an older minister who had had much experience in counseling and I begged him for help. His answer was simple yet profound. The gist of his answer was, “I do not know what to tell you. But this I do know. You cannot preach without the Spirit of God. You may say words, but surely you already know that you cannot preach without Him. And you will never counsel His children without His Spirit. You may say words, but they will be empty without Him. You must look to Him” This helped me immensely. Since then I have tried to pray more and say less.
My friend, before you speak to the one who grieves, make sure you have spoken to the God who comforts our grieving. Before you begin to give advice from your own wisdom, look to the God who is Wisdom.
Your Help From His Word
But when the time comes to speak, what do we say? At first the words should usually be few, but eventually the right moment to speak may come. And since the power of the Spirit is necessary before anything worthwhile will be accomplished, we should be sure we have humbly prayed.
But having prayed, will the Holy Spirit directly give us the words to say? I suppose that He might. There is no doubt that He is able to do whatever He is pleased to do. After all, He is God. But I feel that the truth of the matter is that the Holy Spirit has already given us the words to say. For the Holy Spirit has inspired the whole of the Bible. The Bible contains hundreds of pages of words already given by the Holy Spirit. It contains the truth concerning God and man. It speaks much about death and about life. It tells about this world and about the next. It declares things very troubling and things very comforting. But most of all it proclaims the good news of Christ.
So it is extremely important that we prayerfully attempt to understand His prior teachings before we begin to teach others. This was a big part of the problem with Job’s “miserable comforters.” They attempted to counsel Job with the philosophies of this world instead of with the truth that can only come from God. Now I freely admit that I do not understand many things about my God and about His Bible. As a matter of fact, we are told that He is past our finding out. But do not let this be an excuse for you to give your own advice to those who struggle. Search the scriptures. Speak the Word. And may God give the blessing!
A Few Things To Know
There are so many truths in God’s word that are important to know when we try to help someone who has lost a loved one. Though impossible to cover very many or to cover any with any degree of completeness, there are three truths that I have found to be especially helpful.
Firstly, it is good to know that this life is short. That may seem strange, but at the loss of a loved one there is much comfort to be found in realizing this truth. In his misery Job said, “Man that is born of woman is of few days and full of troubles.” Now the ‘full of troubles’ part you will not have to explain. That is fully understood by the one who grieves. But it sure is good to know that we only have these troubles for a “few days.” Yes, life is short and something better lies ahead. And that is good!
Secondly, comes the truth of a reality of a life after death. Yes, a glorious life after death. If this is not known then the fact that life here is short becomes a hopeless situation. But we who have the knowledge of a life after death are able sorrow not as others who have no hope. Oh, we still sorrow. But it is a grief mixed with joy. It is a sorrow eased by hope.
And thirdly, we need to know that we have a sufficient Savior. There is much assurance in believing that salvation is totally provided by the grace of God and by the finished work of our Savior Jesus Christ. This is the salvation that the Bible teaches. If we have to help save ourselves, we are left with doubts. But if salvation is totally of the Lord, then we can rest in peace.