The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18
Ours is a community in grief. Since May we have experienced an unusually heightened season of death, with most recently, the sudden death of our dear brother Nate, a 39-year-old follower of Jesus, husband, father of three, and so much more. (It still seems so unreal to type that last phrase.)
How can we as a community grieve well and how do we come alongside our grieving brothers and sisters in ways that help and don’t hurt? I want to remind us of what we learned this summer during our This is Us series from the Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite. Here are four good things to remember:
- Care enough to help without being asked. When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go (Job 2:11). No one sent a message to these guys stating that Job needed help. That wasn’t necessary, because real friends show up when someone they love is really hurting. I recently had an eye-opening and convicting conversation with a dear sister in our community who is 3 years into her journey of widowhood. She mentioned that at times she feels forgotten, and needs help with small tasks like replacing windshield wipers. I wondered, why have I not intuitively asserted myself and addressed this need?
- Come with the twofold goal: sympathy and comfort. … they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him (Job 2:11). As we grieve with our sisters and brothers, while in their presence, remember to keep them as the focus. To sympathize means to validate their pain by identifying with those who are suffering. We would use the word empathy today. To comfort means to alleviate distress and to give emotional strength to. Our primary responsibility as a Christian community lies in these two words, feeling and validating their pain, easing their load.
- Don’t be turned away by the “hard.” When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him … (Job 2:12-13a). The truth is what these men came across was hard! They didn’t even recognize Job. But they sat with Job, sat in the “hard,” because that is what Christ-centered community does. Friends step into the mess and come alongside to get as close as is appropriate. Which leads to my final point …
- Understand the ministry of presence. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was (Job 2:13). The Jewish culture has a whole grieving ritual built around this called Sitting Shiva. It is beautiful. Not knowing what to say is common when in the presence of our sisters and brothers who are in grief, but don’t allow that to keep you from being with them. Our presence matters, many times more than our words.
PCC, let me say that I am extremely grateful for our community, for how we rejoice and how we grieve. We don’t always get it right, but what I have witnessed these past few months, especially this past week, what I have experienced personally at PCC when I have walked through the dark valley of the shadow of death, is a beautiful, supernatural expression of the body of Christ.
Let’s live well and grieve well, Church.
This Sunday, PCC will make history as we gather in two locations, on Farm Hill Blvd and on Hudson Street! We will step into an incredibly timely series called Questions Jesus Asked. Please be praying, please be inviting people to join you as you gather as the church. As we gather, please come prayed up, looking to serve others. We will look at the most important question Jesus ever asked; read it for yourself in Matthew 16: 13-20. I will see many of you on Sunday.
I love being your pastor!