What to say. Oh, what to say. More often than not, my words fail me (hence the need to type them out once my brain has had a chance to connect with my tongue).
A few months back, my husband took the pulpit to preach to our small, faithful congregation that meets each Sunday morning at 10:00am. I've seen these faces every Sunday for the past decade+ of my life and watched all of our lives mold, change, twist, and turn, as life causes them to.
This particular Sunday, Stuart touched on God's word and the proper ways to bring it to those who are grieving and to those who are broken hearted. Proper way? I didn't know there was such a thing. After all, it is God's word? How could it ever be improper to bring it to someone in any context?
Turns out, that wasn't his point.
What was his point was was carefully choosing which of those words actually brings comfort. Carefully choosing what to say.
Eight months ago, but a week before our little Juliette Ruth entered the word, a young couple we've known for years had to bury their five day old baby.
Three years ago, our friend had to bury her husband of only three weeks after he lost his battle to cancer.
Just a few months ago, a dear friend of mine had to bury her younger brother.
Yet another lost touch with her daughter who disowned her after a disagreement.
Yet another lost his love.
And yet another.
Look around you. Don't you see them? Don't you see the broken hearted? Don't you see the tired… the weary… the jaded… the hopeless? I see them. I see them everywhere. I see people who are trying to make sense of twisted world views, corrupt systems, natural disasters, evil intent, abuse, addiction, sin.
I believe in total depravity, so I don't have to ask why these things are. I know why – and I know how the story ends.
But what about in the meanwhile? What do we say to the broken hearted? How do we actually comfort those around us – or perhaps even ourselves – when we're faced with the unthinkable pain that is life?
Stuart encouraged our congregation to not bring people to God's word. Sayings like “God's in control.” and “He has a plan.” are good and true, no doubt. But what comfort do they bring? What comfort does it bring me to know that God has a plan, when in the moment, I'm bleeding?
I see people I love hurting. What do I say?
Stu encouraged the congregants (preaching through Job) to bring God's word to people. To reinstate God's promises to them… and to lay those promises at their feet.
We have to be careful with the way we offer comfort to those who are
suffering. It might be true enough that God works all things together for
good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose. But
how might that be taken by someone in the throws of suffering? Things
aren’t working out good for them at the moment. Does that mean they don’t
love God enough? Does that mean they aren’t called according to his
purpose? I think sometimes it might be more wise to avoid trying to provide
profound insight or that golden explanatory verse to people in great grief
and suffering. Job’s two confessions are true, The Lord gives and the Lord
takes away, Shall we not receive good from God and not evil also? But to
come to someone who as suffered loss, maybe of a loved one or even their
own child, to tell them that the Lord gave and the Lord took away isn’t your
place. It is significant here to realize that Job is the one who is able to say
these words. God gave him the grace to come to this truth and confess it.
And that is probably what is best for us to allow God to do for people in
their suffering. He will bring them to these great truths and usually He will do
it in retrospect and reflection (not in their raw grief). Some of the best advice
I have gotten about bringing scripture to bear on people who are suffering
has been to avoid analytic, systematic texts that require time in reflection,
time in processing, time to grow and to heal and instead offer to those in
their grief verses that bring God directly to them or take them directly to
God. So instead of saying “You know all things work together for good.”, say
instead, “Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you.” Say to them,
“The Lord is ever near to those who be of broken spirit.”
God comforts the broken hearted. Say that. Tell them that the Lord is near.
It may be that the dark night of suffering and trials never quite ends for
some people this side of glory. But for the Christian there is the hope of
resurrection morning and we get a glimmer of this hope from Job, who in
the midst of his suffering says these words in Chapter 19 – “For I know that
my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth, and after
my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.”