Grief and loss will always be a part of life. Just before His death, Jesus told His disciples, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Grief can drive us to places we wouldn’t experience otherwise, to deeper knowledge of God and stronger bonds with others. Grief can also lead us into dark places where we might miss the direction God wants to take us.
You may be suffering alongside another person in pain, maybe a family member or someone you’re mentoring in the faith. Maybe you’re experiencing your own brand of suffering. How do we handle that?
Just Showing Up
As he discusses in his podcast on grief with Ethan Jasso, Norm Hubbard found friends who walked with him and his late wife, Katie, through terrible times with wisdom and grace. Not exactly like Job’s friends did with him.
When Job’s friends first heard about his trouble, they showed up. They wept with Job and suffered with him and sat silently with him for a week (Job 2:11-13). That was good. Then they started talking. They lectured him about his suffering, looking for answers and drawing all sorts of wrong conclusions (Job 4-37).
Norm’s short suggestion for helping grieving people: “Be Job’s friends but don’t say anything.” Staying close to people and caring for them as they experience grief, especially over the long term, can help them in their suffering. Care and kindness can accomplish more than words.
Hardship, whether emotional or physical, may bring life into sharper focus. Hardship and pain can also distort our views. During grief we can develop our understanding of God’s goodness and faithfulness or steer toward other conclusions.
Jesus foresaw the quandary His disciples would face between His burial and resurrection. Just after He told them that trouble and living in this world go together, He said, “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Earlier Jesus had used a similar phrase, tharseó in the Greek, translated “take heart” or “take courage.” Jesus told His confused disciples to “take courage” when they were rowing on the lake, struggling against the wind, and mistook Him for a ghost (Matthew 14:26-27, Mark 6:48-50). Jesus voiced truth and a reason for courage amid His disciples’ confusion and fear.
Seeking God’s Truth
Do we go to God’s Word for truth and encouragement in the middle of hardships that sap our hope and courage? Sometimes during our suffering God can seem distant, which we can easily mistake for His condemnation or lack of care.
Psychologist Dr. Rudolf Dreikurs said, “Children are keen observers, but poor interpreters.” When recalling hurtful memories—for instance, the harmful addiction of a parent—children might interpret their experiences to mean that their own failures caused their parent not to love them appropriately. Children can misinterpret painful experiences and miss the truth.
Any of us adults can do the same as we suffer through experiences, whether a friend’s or our own. Job’s friends misinterpreted his suffering and God’s role in it. When the Lord appeared to Job’s friends, He twice admonished them, “You have not spoken the truth about me” (Job 42:7-8).
Simply being there to care and listen, to empathize, usually helps hurting friends more than words. But at some point they may ask for words of truth. Norm says that he and Katie appreciated people who spoke the truth with wisdom and grace.
Norm remembers that when their three-year-old son was dealing with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, he and Katie wrestled with God over the truth of His words that “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28). Later the Hubbards walked through the shadow of Katie’s eventual death from cancer.
Pain like the Hubbards’ can test our trust in the truth of God’s Word. Yet Norm asks if, amid our suffering, we’re better off trusting our “fallible interpretation” of that suffering or God’s words about our human experience and who He is.
We can thank God that as we seek Him, He will give us wisdom (James 1:5) and grace (Hebrews 4:16) to help in times of grief.