Loneliness and grief are deeply personal subjects that affect everyone. In high school, I remember before my parent’s divorce sitting on the upstairs stairs in our house, in the Greater Seattle area listening to my parents’ argue, and being deeply affected with grief and sadness by their fighting night after night. It was just so wearisome to hear as a teenager. It also led me into deep despair, discouragement, and depression. As a result, I had to go on lots of anti-depressants and get counseling. It also caused my grades to drop in high school, as I had zero motivation to learn and study. At this time, I felt all alone, like I didn’t matter. I was hurt at a deep heart-level by my parents’ behavior.
During this time, I had many people in my life at my local church where I attended who knew what I was going through. They walked with me and showed me what it meant to be a Christian man. Without them, it’s not a stretch to say I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Perhaps that’s you today as you are facing an enormous amount of grief and loneliness. You feel like no one cares and everyone is silent. If that’s you, I want to say, I am so sorry, and I can’t imagine the pain you are going through. For me, I was able to endure through this season, by the grace of God and with the help of many godly, seasoned saints. In fact, what’s interesting is at nearly every critical time of my life, the Lord seems to send godly seasoned saints to help me. In this article, I hope to help you be the kind of friend that cares for the grieving and the lonely in your local church and outside of it.
Friendship with the Grieving
In John 15:15, Jesus says that He is our friend. We are no longer enemies of God, as Christians, but friends of God. In John 15:1-5, Jesus says He is the Vine and we are the branches. Through Christ alone, we are fully loved and beloved by the Lord God. To be a Christian friend, we must first know who we are in Christ so that we can help other Christians grow in their understanding of who Christ is for them. To that end, let’s consider four aspects of Christian friendship: listening, prayer, discipleship, and counseling.
In James 1:19, James tells us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. This is the heart of Christian friendships. We all want to get our say in and tell people what we think about a topic. But we must slow down. To be a trustworthy Christian friend we need to take James 1:19 seriously and be slow to speak and quick to listen, especially when others are sharing deep personal pain and heart-ache. During these times, we need to exercise self-control.
For example, a friend of mine named Joe and I are talking and having a conversation about things that are deeply affecting his heart and life. He has just stopped sharing and now it’s my turn to respond. How am I going to respond? The best answer at this moment is to say, “I am so sorry to hear you are going through this.” The worst thing to say is something like, “Well here’s five or ten ways to deal with this situation.” In these moments, it’s best to empathize with the person and then to pray with them.
It is tough for some people to share with others, especially those who have been deeply hurt. What I didn’t share about my own story (above) is that in high school I didn’t often have the right words to share how I felt. I knew how to share what was going on, but I didn’t know really how I felt, because I felt numb to it all. Now looking back, I have more categories to explain what I was going through. You need to understand that your friend may not have the words, and that is okay. Give them a lot of grace and benefit of the doubt. After they are done talking, pray with them.
Praying for Your Friend
In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we are commanded to pray at all times. But this doesn’t mean literally we are to pray all the time 24/7. It means that we are to have a regular and consistent time of prayer. We should set aside regular times for consistent prayer along with the reading of the Word of God.
Say that your friend is hurting and has come to you to share. You’ve now listened to him or her, and now you are about to pray with him/her. So what should you pray for? You should pray for the major things that he/she has shared, but you shouldn’t be overwhelming in your prayer for him/her. Maybe try to focus on one major theme you heard him/her say and pray specifically about that for him/her. After you have finished praying and said ‘Amen’, let him/her know you will continue to pray for him/her. Please also let him/her know you want to walk alongside him/her through this time, and thank him/her for sharing what’s going on.
As Christians, we are disciples of the Risen Lord Jesus. To be a disciple means to be a learner of Christ. As Christian friends, we come alongside one another with the Word of God to do life with one another; such as talking with one another, sharing with one another, and enjoying fellowship with one another. Discipleship is not only for the spiritually immature, it is also for the spiritually mature. Every Christian needs to continue to grow in the grace of God.
At some point in your discussion with your friend, you are going to see areas where he/she needs to grow. This is a good time to begin to ask questions of your friend. As Christians, we are all to make, mature, and multiply disciples of the Risen Christ. After all, we are all at different stages of our lives, but we also have different life experiences. The Lord wants to use those situations in your life to help others grow in the grace of God.
You’ve been ministering to your friend, and it’s going well. Now he/she wants to know how to deal with what he/she going through. What your friend wants to hear now is how he/she should face what he/she is going through. This is why we start with discipleship. For many people, this is all they need. They need help to learn to deal with their grief and loss. For some people, they will need a trained biblical counselor. This is why you as a disciple of Christ need to be in the Word and prayer each day, so you are equipped for these times of ministry.
As you talk with your friend, please realize that you won’t have all the answers, and that’s okay. Do your best. Share openly and honestly with your friend from the Word of God. Please try to share with your friend what the Lord has done in your life as you’ve learned biblical truth.
When you are sharing and engaging in conversation with a hurting friend, try to keep your sentences short. We can all tend to overshare. I’ve found it helpful to remember people aren’t coming to me for a sermon. They want to hear not only hear biblical truth, but to also see how the biblical truth I’m espousing is alive and well in my own life. Please keep that in mind as you engage with your friend, and listen for what is going on in his/her heart.
You’ve listened, prayed, and done one-on-one discipleship with your grieving, hurting friend. Now is the time to hand this person off to a trained biblical counselor or pastor. What you need to understand here is that you aren’t a failure. You’ve walked with your friend as far as you can. You should be happy (and content) that you’ve done this. And you should also continue walking with him/her as he/she needs you. After all, he/she has opened up and shared with you the deepest parts of his/her heart, and you’ve sought to minister to him/her in the Word. Now, however, it’s time to hand off to someone who has more tools in their toolkit to help your friend. Now would be a good time to let him/her know specifically you are there for him/her and available to have coffee, pray, and listen to him/her as he/she meets with the counselor (or pastor).
Christian friends who listen, pray, and disciple one another are needed greatly. At various times in our lives, we are all going to face seasons of intense grief and illness. By growing in the grace of God today, we can become the kind of friend that is needed tomorrow. Commit yourself today to opening and reading your Bible. Don’t neglect faithfully attending your local church. Instead, commit to your local church and getting to know others there. By doing so, you will learn not only to be a helpful church member, but a Christian friend to others—in particular, to those who are hurting. Please commit today, by the grace of God, that you will be the kind of friend you know you need—one that loves Jesus, is trustworthy, and is ready to walk alongside others. By doing so, the Lord will use you to not only help those who are hurting, but also to impact others for eternity for the glory of Christ.
Dave Jenkins is happily married to Sarah Jenkins. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon. Dave is a lover of Christ, His people, the Church, and sound theology. He serves as the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and is the Host for the Equipping You in Grace Podcast. He is the author of The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy and What To Do About It (House to House, 2021). You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Parler, Youtube, or read his newsletter. Dave loves to spend time with his wife, going to movies, eating at a nice restaurant, or going out for a round of golf with a good friend. He is also a voracious reader, in particular of Reformed theology, and the Puritans. You will often find him when he’s not busy with ministry reading a pile of the latest books from a wide variety of Christian publishers. Dave received his M.A.R. and M.Div through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.