It was unexpected, swift, and yet seemed like an eternity. The phone rang. Sis is in the hospital. I wasn’t too concerned. I told my husband it sounded serious, but I felt sure she would be released.
Moments later: It doesn’t look good.
A few hours after that: She’s gone.
My older sister was 40 years old. It was her birthday. And she had passed on to eternity. Her heart had failed, and ours were broken.
That was a sad night, and the weeks that followed were difficult. I was tasked with taking care of things that must be done when a loved one passes—things I never thought I’d need to do so soon. And in the years that have passed since then I’ve mourned her death in various ways.
There have been moments of incredible hope because of what I know. I know that one day death will be swallowed up. I know death has already been defeated because of our Savior. The truth of these verses leaves me longing for heaven, anticipating the glorious day when there will be no more tears or sorrow, but only rejoicing—forever.
But there have also been days when my tears could fill a river. Sometimes, despite my hope, I feel a heaviness that’s indescribable. So I don’t try to explain. I simply cry.
And something else has happened during those years. The process of mourning the loss of my sister has changed the way I interact with others who have lost someone they love. The Scriptures tell us to mourn with those who mourn, but I have learned that how we do that can make a big difference.
The Urge to Fix
When we see a dripping faucet, our first thought isn’t to just let it continue dripping. Each drip annoys us, costs us money, and creates rust. We need that faucet fixed. So we either try to fix it ourselves (not an option for me!) or we call in an expert and ask him to work on the faucet until the drip is gone.
And that’s all fine for the plumbing. But there’s a temptation to treat our mourning friends like leaky faucets that need to be fixed—and attempt to fix them ourselves instead of relying on the Expert who really knows what to do and is capable of doing it.
We may spout Scriptures we have memorized or wisdom we have heard. We may even run to the concordance and look up search terms— “mourning,” “sorrow,” “pain,” “Job”—then lay our findings onto our friend, hoping to fix the leak. The effort is well meaning, and there’s certainly a time and place to share wisdom. But too often we search for the perfect knowledge that will bring comfort when all we really need to do is be there. To wait with the grieving person for God to do his work.
When a friend is weeping or seems lost, it’s hard to say, “I don’t know, I don’t understand.” We want to know. We want to make it all better. But it’s so easy to forget that our friends, coworkers, or relatives are not faucets to be fixed—they are flesh and blood to be loved. Those moments when we’re anxiously trying to find the perfect words are often the best moments to humbly embrace our weakness and lack of knowledge.
This doesn’t mean we never speak at all. It doesn’t even mean we never share our perceived wisdom. It might actually involve acknowledging we do understand. We understand our friend’s sorrow enough to be willing to bridle our tongues, to speak carefully and thoughtfully, to pray and wait.
Silence Is a Virtue
Have you ever spent any time in the book of Job and found yourself cheering on Job’s friends? I know I have. I’ve struggled to understand why their advice is wrong. At face value, much of it sounds pretty wise. But those so-called friends weren’t comforting Job. They were accusing him, telling him how he should act and how he should feel. They were feeding him explanations and rattling off unhelpful advice instead of listening to him. One even asked a rhetorical question in an attempt to discount Job’s wisdom (Job 15:2). In chapter 16 Job lays out exactly why these brothers were not helpful, calling them “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2).
Did Job’s friends intend to be miserable comforters? Absolutely not. Each had a genuine desire “to show him sympathy and comfort him” (Job 2:11). So what went wrong? They spoke without waiting and without thinking. More important, they acted out of their own need for answers and relief, not out of true wisdom and compassion. Too often we do the same.
The next time a friend needs comfort and you have no idea what to say, perhaps you shouldn’t say much. Instead, just be there. Take the opportunity to cry together. Look for ways you can be of practical help. And maybe you could, with a compassion-filled heart, pray together. But hold on the advice and the explanations, and when you speak, weigh your words.
Our Lord is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. He comforts us so we may comfort others (2 Cor. 1:3–5). We must trust him, for in his time he will bring comfort to those who mourn.