This article is not primarily intended to address a believer struggling through a period of grief, but to provide scriptural support and direction to those seeking to help such an individual. We are forcefully reminded of our inadequacy and weakness when watching someone we care about be crushed with grief, not knowing how we can possibly help.
Your greatest help to a grieving brother or sister will not be found in anything you directly say to them or do for them. It will be found in your intercession on their behalf before the throne of grace. Intercession is praying with a heart that is gripped with the need of another, and pouring out that burden to the Lord, pleading for the wellbeing of this loved one. Pray early. Pray earnestly. Pray often. Pray specifically. Contrary to the popular saying, time cannot heal broken hearts. But God can – and God does. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psa 34:18). “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psa 147:3).
Loneliness is one of the great accompaniments to grief, especially in the weeks and months after the initial loss, when the flurry of activity is past and the flood of cards and messages has subsided. Interacting with the grieving believer is therefore very important, but such interaction can be fraught with pitfalls and challenges. To prove helpful it must be saturated with prayer and undertaken with care.
Listening – When interacting with a grieving brother or sister, it is critically important to practice the exhortation of James to be “quick to hear, slow to speak” (Jas 1:19). Your job is not to “fix” the person or to give unsought advice. Your greatest contribution may just be to provide a listening ear, a gentle spirit, an accepting attitude and patient companionship. Grief is generally accompanied by storms of strong, churning, confusing emotions. Learn to be a patient listener, and be very slow to feel qualified to offer answers.
Patience – There are no shortcuts to dealing with the grief process. The psalmist talks about “walking through the valley of the shadow of death,” and that’s what grief involves: a challenging but necessary journey “through” a dark, painful, and often unpredictable period of time. If you are to help a brother or sister along this path, it’s not a “one and done” type of interaction. Rather than just a single visit, or card saying, “If you need anything feel free to call me any time,” it is much more valuable to maintain regular dialogue and contact as the weeks and months roll by.
Genuine Interest – Paul’s commendation of Timothy in Philippians 2:20 is one of the highest compliments paid to anyone in his writings: “For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.” If you wish to be a genuine help to a grieving brother or sister, you will learn to cultivate an ongoing, authentic care for their welfare. One of the most painful periods for those struggling through grief is often the weeks and months following the loss. Whether they give voice to it or not, the cry of their heart may be, “It seems like others go on with their lives and everything seems normal for them, and I’m stuck here with my life shattered, and I have no idea how I can ever move forward.” If you’re going to try to help, make sure you genuinely care!
Practical Help – Grief generally disrupts everyday life. Search for practical ways to show your support and love. Dropping off food, sending short messages, running errands, sending small gifts – all of these are helpful, especially when continued over a period of time. Quietly learn the individual’s preferences, interests, desires and objectives, and then look for meaningful ways to support these as the weeks and months unfold.
Spiritual Fellowship – True growth through grief will only be possible for a believer when he or she learns to walk with the Lord through the journey. Spiritual vitality is therefore of utmost importance. They must learn to cry to the Lord, not turn from Him, and to draw sustenance from His Word, not to neglect it. This should be the ultimate goal of your relationship with them. But be cautious how quickly you seek to encourage them in this area. Saturate your interactions in personal prayer, and then wait for opportunities to encourage them in spiritual things. Walking in on the first visit and telling them that “all things work together for good” is very unlikely to have a positive spiritual impact or provide lasting help through their grief, no matter how well-intentioned.
Confidentiality – A grieving brother or sister will often struggle to reintegrate with fellow believers. One contributing factor is often a sense of being conspicuous – everyone is looking at me! One of the most damaging things you can do to a grieving person is to betray their confidence. They are only going to open up and share their struggles with you if they are certain, in their soul, that you can be trusted. Speak to the person, and speak to the Lord about the person, but be very, very slow to speak about them to others in any way that could betray the grieving believer’s confidence.
Sadly, a journey through grief can often have damaging effects on a person’s wellbeing – emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and sometimes even medically. Believers are not exempt from these effects. When helping a friend through grief, be alert for indications of such dangers and be prayerfully burdened about ensuring appropriate actions are taken if or when necessary. This is a delicate area, and definitely one to be handled with utmost care and earnest prayer, but a genuine friend will not neglect a loved one’s true need, and will seek appropriate external resources to help when such intervention is needed to prevent further harm.
If the Lord chooses to use you to help a grieving brother or sister, proceed prayerfully and carefully – but please proceed! People need care, and you will be following the very best of examples. There are few activities more Christ-like than bearing the burdens of others and seeking to help the brokenhearted. As you witness the healing power of the Lord and His Word in the rebuilding of a shattered spirit, you will gain invaluable life lessons that you will carry to the end of your days. Never forget the tender care the Lord has for His own, and always remember how highly He treasures those who help one of His little ones. He views anything done for one of them as having been directly done for Himself.
 All Scripture quotations in this article are from the ESV.