Some things you can know too much about. We all have that friend who obsesses about _________, and when the conversation remotely ventures toward his or her area, there we go. I suspect we all have an area or two that sets off the nerd alert in our circles, “Speaking of conflict, did you know that Union General George B. McClelland, who was actually conflict averse also invented arguably the best Calvary saddle ever made? What made it so good was…”
Other things you can’t know too much enough about. I recently coached a young pastor through his congregation’s tragic loss of a toddler and a teenager in less than a week. Who can know too much about helping people in agony? What follows is not exhaustive but hopefully helpful:
- Initially people need presence not answers, listening ears not talking heads (James 1:19). Job’s friends get a bad rap. They eventually blew it, but how many people do you know who will coordinate and journey to sit in the ashes of your life as you spew agony, frustration and anger for seven days (Job 2:11-13)? Speaking the truth in love includes timing (Ephesians 4:29). The time for thoughtful answers to hard questions will come. Be there and wait for it. When one of my best friends lost his first born at a family gathering to celebrate her third birthday it took months before the questions were really inviting discussion. Even then I needed to ask.
- Waiting in ashes time is not wasted time. You are building a relational bridge to eventually carry some really heavy freight. Remember and validate the proportions of the Psalms – there are more laments than Psalms of praise. However, Psalms ends in sustained unbroken praise – and so will we. It is OK, even necessary to wrestle with God in Psalm 88. It is the doorway to Psalm 89. Stuffing is the highway to bitterness, cynicism, isolation and despair. Ask for grace to meet people where they are. Be incarnational. Weep with those who weep.
- God is not an exhibitionist. Look for little evidences of his presence and care. I remember a discovered journal entry about hope for the life to come carrying a grieving Mom through the darkest days of grief. Things like this don’t answer the why, but they help with the Who. They are God’s fingerprints, evidence of His presence and care before, during, and after.
- Validate and explain the grief process. Grief is our response to any significant loss, not just death. Don’t settle for our culture’s truncated bleak grief without His wiping away every tear version. It still is a hellacious unpredictable roller coaster ride with no good exit until you get off at a new normal, a restored soul. It is not clean and varies wildly from person to person. I knew a man who wasn’t stuffing, but the impact of his father’s death took two years to really hit. A woman from a third world culture asked, “Why do Americans only allow a couple of weeks to grieve?” Her culture expected at least six months to two years for significant loss.
- Care givers need care too. When you pour out 1 Kings 18 intensity you may end up in 1 Kings 19 condition. His treasure is still dispensed through jars of clay.
- Instruct your people how to care. You have their attention. Watch for those who emerge as gifted care givers. Also, be on guard for those who aren’t. That too is a shepherd’s job.
- Let people pick their care givers. It is amazing that Jonathan, a potential threat and rival, was David’s greatest comforter (I Samuel 20).
- The most helpful agony stories like Job, Ruth, Joseph, Daniel and friends don’t specifically answer our questions about ‘Why?”. They do point us to the cross where our God willingly entered the suffering of our making, and took the worst to Himself so it would not fall on us. They tell us God cares and intends to fix it all. They tell us our suffering is not wasted, but redeemed. Again, don’t waste this powerful balm. Wait until the wound is ready, then apply liberally and often.