Is our local church a safe place for sad people?

Recently Nancy Guthrie gave some sound counsel about those in our body who are grieving.   Nancy, like all of us, is a sufferer.  God has taught Nancy much through her suffering.  You can find some of Nancy’s articles and personal testimony  here.  Below are two questions from the interview.   

What’s the most helpful thing we can do for a fellow church member struggling through grief?

Grieving people have four primary needs that the church has a key role in addressing:

  1. They have intense sadness that is lonely and lingering that needs to be respected.
  2. They have significant questions that need to be addressed in light of Scripture.
  3. They have broken relationships that need to be healed and normalized.
  4. They have a deep desire to discover some meaning and purpose in their loss.

While we make room for people to be sad. We want to walk with people in expectation that God will indeed do a work of healing in their lives so that they do not stay stuck in their sadness, but emerge from it strengthened in their confidence in God, deepened in their understanding of the Scriptures, and equipped to serve others.

What are some common errors we make when trying to help someone going through a difficult time?

On a practical level, we say, “Just call me if I can help.” The truth is, when you’re going through a family crisis or grief, you don’t really want to have to keep asking for help or organize all of the help you need. To have someone assume the responsibility for organizing meals and other practical help is a great gift. Even better is the person figures out what is needed and simply says, “I’m coming over Wednesday morning to do your laundry.”

Sometimes we’re afraid of saying the wrong thing to someone who is hurting so we say nothing, adding to his or her hurt by ignoring it. Or we’re afraid that “bringing it up” will make the person sad, not realizing that our “bringing it up” actually allows that person to release some of the sadness they are already feeling.

On a spiritual level, I often hear Christian leaders or counselors say to the person who is grieving something like, “It’s okay to be angry with God. He can handle it.” I know they are trying to encourage authenticity before God and with other people, and that is worthwhile. But a church that is a safe place for sad people brings the truth to bear on the untruths and misunderstandings that serve as grounds for anger toward God rather than giving permission to hold on to or simply vent that anger.

Perhaps another mistake we make is assuming that people have grasped the sovereignty of God that has been preached from the pulpit. Often it is not until believers’ lives are shaken by circumstances or sorrow that they are finally ready to delve into deeper theological truths. As they are struggling to put together their understanding of a loving God with the God who allowed the accident or the illness, we have to be ready to talk through the implications of God’s sovereignty in very real terms. And usually it is not one conversation that settles this, but must be a series of conversations, giving time for these deep truths to settle in.

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