“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15 (ESV)
When ministering to someone who is grieving, please don’t be like Job’s friends. They were full of good advice, counsel, and were well-meaning. If you know the story you know that, in the end, the Lord rebuked them for their approach to counseling Job. I am a pastor and biblical counselor at my local church. I spend a large amount of my time with grieving people in the counseling office, conducting funerals, or doing hospital visits. In this article, my aim is to share what I am learning as I serve, and equip you for the time the Lord allows you to minister to and be there for someone struggling with grief. Your response to them in their suffering is a weighty matter that should be given careful consideration.
If you have someone in your life grieving or struggling with an illness, I want to commend that you do one thing with them for a season: weep. Don’t correct their theology, don’t try to figure out what sin they may or may not have committed. Don’t quote Job 1:21 to them. Just sit with them and weep. Don’t tell them you understand what they’re going through (even if you do). Don’t make the situation about you and share with them about your own struggles. Don’t remind them that their struggle is a ‘light momentary affliction’ (2nd Corinthians 4:17). Just be quiet and weep. Mourn. Don’t move a muscle. Sitting still and weeping with those who weep does at least three things:
- It acknowledges God’s ordained seasons of life (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, ESV).
For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
- It shows compassion and care.
“Jesus wept” (John 11:35, ESV). Jesus wept after spending time with Mary and Martha. He was just a few minutes away from raising Lazarus from the dead. He was going to see His friend again, but Jesus, in His humanity, showed great compassion for those who suffered by weeping, and we have much to learn from His kindness and compassion.
- It allows us to listen well so that when the time comes, we may speak well.
James speaks of being quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). When we take time to mourn and just listen, not only do we give an opportunity for sufferers to process without judgment, but we learn how best to respond to them in the proper time (think season). We cannot possibly know how others process grief. All people process differently. We don’t know what they’re thinking. We don’t know where their heads are at (where they are mentally). We don’t know what is helpful for them to hear/not hear. We must listen. We must listen broadly and generously. We must listen without judgment. We must listen with compassion. When we listen well, we learn how best to honor Christ in our response to the sufferer, and we can trust that the Holy Spirit will use us to comfort them. So, please be quiet, weep, listen, and pray with those who are grieving.
Joey Tomlinson (DMin, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a husband, father, and pastor at a local church in Newport News, Virginia. He blogs regularly on broadoakpiety.org and hosts a weekly podcast called The Broad Oak Piety Podcast with another local pastor in the community.