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Ouch! Why do we grieve grievers with tacky questions?

Grieving is hard – astonishingly hard. Even psychological experts seem to struggle, when grief hits close to home. Consoling those who grieve can be tricky, even though we aim to “comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:4b, NIV). Often, we struggle to find something comforting to say. In our floundering, we may even misstep and add to the grieving ones’ sorrow.

Adding to their pain is the last thing we intend to do, but it happens. Consider these examples.

  • He died of a heart attack. Was he overweight?
  • She had liver failure. Was she a drinker?
  • His son was killed in a car crash. Was he drunk or high? (Or: Was he wearing a seat belt?)
  • She was in a motorcycle accident. Was she wearing a helmet?
  • He had lung cancer? Did he smoke?
  • She passed away suddenly. Was it suicide?
  • He killed himself. Did anyone ever suspect anything was wrong?
  • She died. Was she a Christian?

These questions, even when they are well-intended, are all painful to hear.

This kind of interrogation does not comfort the bereaved at all. In fact, these queries may only add to their pain, because they imply the lost loved one was somehow responsible for his or her own demise. They’re a form of victim blaming, even if we don’t mean them to be.

Why do people ask such nosy and loaded questions of someone who is grieving?

Maybe we are trying to make sense of the senseless. Death is distressing to us, even when we are fairly certain that the one who died has passed into a blessed eternity with the Lord. By seeking a reason or explanation for the tragedy, perhaps we are aiming to keep it at bay. We may be worried that death might strike even closer, or we may be struggling with the question of our own mortality.

But, to the bereaved, it feels as if we might be trying to impose some sort of sowing upon the deceased ones’ reaping. And that’s not up to us.

Here’s the bottom line.

Life is hard on this side of eternity. It’s filled with inexplicable troubles. (See John 16:33.) It often feels unfair. And we wrestle with reality, grasping for ways to understand what may be beyond our own comprehension. So we forget to be gracious and tactful, and we ask probing questions that  wound the already wounded listeners.

That doesn’t exactly fit the bill, if we recall Colossians 4:6: “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (NKJV).

Those who are grieving need not be burdened with satisfying the curiosity of others about the circumstances of their loved one’s death. If the bereaved choose to share such information, that’s their prerogative. But if not, it’s simply not their job. The work before them is to survive the grieving process, not to keep everyone else informed about all the sad details.

What about asking if the deceased person knew the Lord?

Although some may argue this point, I think it’s not appropriate during the grieving process to ask the bereaved about the deceased person’s condition of faith. If there’s any doubt about it, this is probably not the best time to do that sort of digging. That isn’t going to comfort those who are mourning.

If they are assured that the one who died was resting in faith in the Lord, then they will likely volunteer that information anyway. If they’re not sure, then we can assume it’s already an uncomfortable topic.

The only loving and gracious thing to do at such a time is to offer care and support.

That can take all sorts of forms. Basically, we “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15b, NIV). And, if we say anything at all, it might be something much safer and non-intrusive and general, such as:

  • “I am praying for you.”
  • “I am here, if you need me.”
  • “I’m here for however you need me.”
  • “I simply don’t know what to say.”
  • “I will sit and cry with you, if you want me to.”
  • “I just want you to know I care.”
  • “I’m so sorry.”

Angel Weeping –
 public domain image

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Dark and difficult emotions don’t negate our faith.

Feelings can be fearsome and formidable things.

I wonder sometimes if we aren’t our own worst accusers, especially when it comes to embarking on guilt trips over our own emotions. Especially the darkest, most difficult ones.

When we feel down, we may wonder if we’re losing our joy in the Lord. When we’re furious, we tend to worry that we are harboring unforgiveness. When we are startled or afraid, we often browbeat ourselves, as if we are not trusting God enough. When we worry, we stress that we may be lacking in faith. When we grieve, we might think we are losing sight of God’s promise of eternity.

Um, no.

Faith is a choice. We decide to believe God, no matter what happens. We trust Him. That doesn’t mean we aren’t going to go through difficult emotions. Does feeling down or angry or sad or worried change the faith choice we have made?

Or are we simply going through pains of earth-bound humanness?

Here are a few examples. (The names are changed to protect confidentiality.)

I have a dear friend who struggles with clinical depression. Cherie is a remarkable woman of faith. I’ve seen her trust God through circumstantial crises that could rock anyone’s world. She also faithfully prays for others, when they walk through difficult times. However, when depression drags her down, she is genuinely burdened. How can anyone question her faith, as she soldiers through such seasons?

Jerry (a family friend) stepped into his driveway last week and found the tires on his truck had been slashed. You can bet he was angry, as he reported the crime to local police. He’s not racing off to avenge the evil personally, but he is still steamed over it. I’m thinking that’s a pretty solid case of this Scripture: “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” (Ephesians 4:26, KJV).

Doris fell off her horse a few months ago and broke her arm. He spooked when a rabbit ran onto the woodsy trail, where she was riding with a friend. Yesterday, she was riding him in the field behind the stables where she keeps him, and he scooted sideways suddenly. She yelped and grabbed the horn of her Western saddle to stay aboard. An hour after dismounting, she was still shaken up. Does that mean her faith is questionable? Of course not!

Karla just lost her job after more than a decade of dedicated responsibility. She showed up in the morning, only to discover the company was closing – effective immediately. Did I mention Karla is a single parent?

“I know God has a better plan,” she confessed. “But right now, I am scared to death.” Does anybody want to throw rocks at her faith? No way.

A friend from church lost her sister to a prolonged illness recently. Polly knows her sister loved the Lord. She is confident that her sister is in Heaven. But her grief is real. Who can deny that?

Sometimes our most difficult emotions feel like they are contrary to the truth on which our faith rests.

This life can be downright hard, and our souls are wired for eternity. So how does the believer reconcile biblical contrasts like “Rejoice always” (2 Thessalonians 5:16, NIV) and “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4, NIV)?

Doesn’t rejoicing seem diametrically opposed to mourning? Or is it?

The Bible instructs us to guard our hearts (see Proverbs 4:23) and to rein in wayward or destructive thoughts (see 2 Corinthians 10:5). So we are responsible for our hearts and our thoughts. What about our feelings?

Perhaps emotions are another matter.

In the Old Testament, we read that there are appropriate times for all sorts of emotions (see Ecclesiastes 3:4-6).

Jesus even experienced real-life human emotions. We know He wept (see John 11:35). He flipped tables over in the Temple (see Mark 11:15). And I am certain He laughed.

It seems to me that the God who created us with intense feelings, both pleasant and difficult, gave us the freedom to feel them. Maybe it’s more about holding onto truth, even through flat or fiery or flailing feelings. Because we live in the light of His blood-bought, grace-filled redemption, we know that guilt trips are not of His making.

OK, I get that we are not supposed to wallow. But difficult emotions do take some time to process.

I love the Lord. I love that He fills us with His hope and joy and peace. But there are times when I just stop and sigh and love that there is even a book of the Bible titled “Lamentations.” Because sometimes we simply feel like lamenting for a while. And that’s not a bad thing, if it draws us closer to God in the middle of our pain.

Rise during the night and cry out. Pour out your hearts like water to the Lord. (Lamentations 2:19, NLT)

We can feel (all sorts of feelings) without failing in faith or letting go of what we know to be true. And in time, we trust Him to restore us again and again.

Adapted from public domain image/s

Feel free to follow on GooglePlus and Twitter. Don’t miss the Heart of a Ready Writer page on Facebook. You are invited to visit my Amazon author page as well.