Thoughts on Trying to Comfort Those Who Grieve

Last weekend we had the joy of a visit from Bruce, who was one of Alan’s closest friends during residency days and with whom Alan shared his first practice in Ann Arbor. Bruce married in his thirties, so we knew him as a single man, watched him fall in love, and rejoiced in his marriage. Bruce and his wife were best of friends! She was his greatest fan, and they were a “match made in heaven.” All that sweetness came to a bitter end five years ago when Lisa died of stage IV colon cancer.

There are no words to comfort someone who is grieving the loss of someone they love deeply. No words will ameliorate the pain, but there are plenty of words that can feel like sharp knives piercing an already wounded heart.

Alan and Kathi at Meijer Garden

Because Alan lost both his parents in a tragic event when he was only twenty-nine, and because he is a geriatrician who has cared for many dying patients over the past forty years, I used to stay tucked under his wing when we attended funerals, wanting to be present but feeling totally helpless as far as having any comforting words to offer, knowing that what I would imagine might comfort me could cause stinging pain to my friend.

Now that Alan and I are nearing seventy, and more and more of our friends are experiencing life-threatening illnesses, I’ve been trying to learn more about how to comfort those who are experiencing great loss. In that quest, I listened to an audio book called Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love: Daily Meditations to Help You Through the Grieving Process, by Raymond R. Mitsch and Lynn Brookside.

There are a plethora of books on grief recovery, and this particular one wasn’t my all-time favorite, but there are several ideas I want to pass on. It also reminded me that if you are grieving, or if you love someone who is grieving, there are many resources out there, probably most of which will offer at least some helpful insights. If you’re grieving, consider reading what others have experienced on their journeys of sorrow. For many, there’s truth in the old adage that “misery loves company.” (However, Bruce tells me that what really soothed him was the still, small voice, not the whirlwind of other voices.) If you enjoy writing, consider starting a journal about your personal pilgrimage. Writing can be one of the most therapeutic exercises on earth!

So, here are my favorite takeaways from Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love (along with some photos from Meijer Garden, where Alan and I took Bruce for a quiet stroll after church last Sunday afternoon).

Zen Garden at Meijer Garden in Grand Rapids, MI

“‘I feel your pain.’ Those four words say it all. You don’t have to have answers, just be present.” Personally, I’m not sure if “I feel your pain” is adequate, since I usually feel like their pain is often beyond my comprehension, since I haven’t lost a spouse or child yet. Nevertheless, Bruce (and others) confirm that saying nothing is better than saying anything trivial, but being present with the person is crucially helpful. Listening with compassion and without any criticism or shock over whatever they might express is also a healing balm. Their wounds are raw and sometimes ugly. “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). Don’t try to play the Holy Spirit and “cure” them. Pray for the Holy Spirit to comfort and cure them.

Hydrangeas in sunshine at Meijer Garden

“Don’t stare constantly at either the sun or death.” If you’re grieving loss, don’t allow yourself to spend all your waking hours experiencing pain, or your soul will become as blind as someone who stares constantly into the sun. Instead, look into the face of God to find “safe” sunshine and beauty to relieve your aching heart. Ditto if you’re trying to encourage someone else. Don’t PREACH! Walk alongside your friend in some beautiful place where she/he will feel refreshed. “And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us” (Psalm 90:17).

“The seemingly little things you grieve are not little! The whole fabric of  your life has been rent!” I thought this was profound. The authors went on to say we need to allow ourselves to experience and process pain without trying to minimize or ignore it. Each person’s pain is unique and probably unbearable. “It will be alright,” or “Someday it will be better” doesn’t help present-tense and is like rubbing salt in the wound. Better to say nothing than try to smooth the mountain into a mole hill. It’s NOT!! (BTW, God can overcome our mountains: “The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills” (Song of Solomon 2:8).

“I thought it would be too hard to say goodbye until I refused to do so.” This point is good to process personally if you’re grieving, and I suppose there may be a time in which you can share the authors’ experiences (and both authors were writing from the wells of their own grief), but be careful on this one. Each person’s time to feel released from the intense sense of grieving out of loyalty (which follows grieving out of personal loss) is so unique that the grieving person may feel you (as the one who wants to comfort) are just pushing the person to heal so that you and she/he can both “get on with life.” My friend still wears his wedding ring after five years as a widower. That’s just fine! He’ll take it off when and if he’s ever ready to! Don’t push. Pray!! “Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant” (Psalm 119:76, and for the comfort of our loved ones).

“Suicide is a permanent end for a temporary problem” (the temporary problem being grief). I’ve never been suicidal, but I’ve known a number of people who have suicided, and I definitely think some people have a genetic pre-disposition for turning to this age-old solution to chronic pain. God wants us to turn to Him in our grief (and all our troubles). He does not want us to take matters into our own hands and “end it all.”

Think of the prodigal son. When he returned to his father, his father’s arms were open, and the prodigal found forgiveness and a whole new life opening up to him. I’m not saying we are “prodigals” when we grieve, but I am saying that God is there, whether or not we’ve stayed on the farm or run off to some far country. He is waiting for us to come back and rest under the covert of his wings. He loves us. As long as He wants us on earth, He has good reasons for our being here, even if we don’t see them or understand them. “He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto God the Lord belong the issues from death” (Psalm 68:20).

Listening to History at Meijer Sculpture Park

Another verse to consider for yourself (but would probably not be good to offer someone else who is grieving) is Job 13:15, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.” We’re responsible for living with integrity and faith; God is responsible for choosing when we are born and when we die. He is also available to help us every day from birth to death and offers us eternal life through Jesus Christ, his Son, which is—to me—the ultimate comfort in the death of loved ones who have trusted in Jesus as their Lord and Savior: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Plaque in the Faith Reflective Garden. Meijer Gardens, Michigan

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Do your loved ones know God and Jesus Christ? Do you?

“His D Card Got Spidered”

Memorial Day Weekend wasn’t as much fun for one of our sons as he’d expected! His older brother bought him tickets to visit their family in Europe, but when my son got to the ticket counter, they turned him away. Why? Well, as my grandson Paly reported when asked, “‘Cause his D card got spidered.”

Chicago, here we come . . . or not! 😦

Sad, but true (sort of). Belgium has a law that you cannot enter their country unless your passport is good for 3 months after your return date. So, his uncle’s I.D. card (passport) was going to get spidered (expire) in June . . . after the trip, but not long enough after the trip that he could get through Belgian security. Thankfully, a merciful United Airlines supervisor took my son’s plight to heart and allowed him to exchange his ticket for passage at the end of summer, after he’ll have a chance to renew his passport. That was very gracious of them, because the airline was in no way at fault, and his ticket was non-refundable. Thank you, United Airlines!

Just a question, but do you have a valid passport? If you’re going to travel anytime, please make sure your passport will be valid long enough after the trip so that you won’t get stopped at the ticket counter. (For instance, for my upcoming trip, my passport has to be valid for six months after my return date.)

(Okay, so maybe we’re not really dead in this photo,
but i-phones have lots of tricks!)

Just another question, but do you think you have a valid passport for heaven? Most people imagine they’ll go to heaven after they die if their good works outweigh their bad works, and (of course) most of us think since we’ve always tried to be good (at least, most of the time), our good works will (hopefully) outweigh our bad works. However, like my son’s present passport, good works (valid passport that makes passage in this life seem fine) won’t work for heaven. God has a requirement that we need to heed, lest we get turned away at the ticket counter (death)!

The good news is that anybody can get a valid passport simply by asking! Jesus died in our place so that we can have forgiveness for our sins. All we have to do is humble ourselves, admit that we sin, and ask God to forgive us based on Jesus’ s sacrificial death for us. This “transaction” (also known as “salvation” or “rebirth”) with the government of heaven (so to speak), will give us a valid stamp on our passport. We become permanent “citizens of heaven” with no need for a foreign passport. In effect, we are saved by Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit for safe transmission to heaven. If we had a passport, it would read something like this: “All sins are covered by the blood of Christ. This passport is good forever. No expiration date!”

Please don’t think you’re okay because you’re as innocent as a babe. I mean, really? Anybody who has a baby knows they are only angelic while they’re sleeping. Lovable? Absolutely! Sinless? Not by any stretch of the imagination, and I’ve never been accused of being perfect, either. Have you?

So, unless you’re okay with missing out on all the action (be it over Memorial Day, or all the joys of heaven that could be yours), please believe Jesus when he taught that He alone can promise us eternal life. Sign up with God today for your free Passport for Life!

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). ” I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

How Jesus Came Into My Life

The story of Philip’s conversion and consequent enthusiasm to share his faith is precious to me because it reminds me of my own experience. Many Americans grow up learning John 3:16 by heart (“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life), but that was not true of me! In fact, my mother wrote in my baby book—in her list of funny sayings I’d uttered as a toddler—that I thought I should learn something about the Bible. My father was an atheist and my mother agnostic, so the only time I heard God’s name in our home was as part of an angry outburst if my father was upset.

For whatever reason, I never thought about God at all as a child and never had philosophical debates over whether or not He existed. I was totally ignorant and totally thoughtless. All that changed when my older sister won a trip to Washington D.C. and heard Billy Graham preach back in 1962. My sister was as irreligious as I was, but she’d never been to D.C. so entered a Bible verse memory contest with the prize being a free trip to Washington D.C.

She came home utterly transformed. Instead of fighting all the time (as we were wont to do), she became supportive and kind, even offering me use of her favored jewelry if she thought it would look pretty with my outfit, etc. The crowning confusion to me was that she stopped dating her current boyfriend, who was a minister’s son, because he didn’t believe the “gospel.” I wasn’t sure what the “gospel” was, but I figured you couldn’t get any more religious than being a minister’s son, so I was completely baffled by some of her decisions.

She couldn’t really explain things to me, either, at least in a way that penetrated my heart, so she invited me to attend a Youth for Christ rally with her. That evening I heard for the first time in my life that there is a God! That was news to me, but it rang true in my heart, and I believed it. Further, this God who created us and the world, loves us all . . .  including me! I was overjoyed! But, God wants us to be good, not bad, and all of us intentionally choose to do evil sometimes. (That was easy for me to admit as true of myself.) God so ordained life on this earth that “the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). God (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together) had provided a remedy for sin so that all of us could “come clean” and be reconciled to God through accepting the death of Christ as payment for our sins and asking the resurrected Christ to reign within our hearts.  I was mesmerized, and when the invitation was given to come down to the front to learn more or pray with somebody, I practically flew down the aisle, crying tears of joy to know that God loved me and that Jesus died for me. I never stopped to wonder if it was true. It was like a light turned on in my heart and brain, and I was all in! I asked God to forgive me for my sins and for Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. I was flooded with joy and light!

Like my sister, I was full of enthusiasm but not very able to explain the transformation in my heart. My father (an extremely liberal professor), patted me on the head (not literally) and declared it was just a passing phase, pontificating that no thinking adult believed in God.

I’ve had many “adventures” in sharing the good news of Jesus since, but I don’t think I’ve ever become the excellent “fisher of men” that some are. Nevertheless, I will keep sharing my faith wherever I go, not because I’m a thoughtless (or thinking) adult, but because I’ve experienced the love of God, and it is better than anything else in the world to me. The power of God’s love is even better than a cure for cancer, and to know Jesus is to be born again into eternal life that will never end, not even when our physical bodies die!

If you’ve never come face to face with God, I invite you to “Come and see,” just as Philip encouraged Nathanael. Come and see for yourself! Read the Bible. Visit a church where they believe the Bible is true and teach from it. Talk to friends who believe in Jesus. Ask God to forgive your sins, and ask Jesus to save you and make you into a new creation: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5;17).

O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.”
(Psalm 34:8)Since Jesus Came Into My Heart
(by Rufus H. McDaniel, 1914)

  1. What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought
    Since Jesus came into my heart;
    I have light in my soul for which long I have sought,
    Since Jesus came into my heart.

    • Refrain:
      Since Jesus came into my heart,
      Since Jesus came into my heart;
      Floods of joy o’er my soul like the sea billows roll,
      Since Jesus came into my heart.
  2. I have ceased from my wand’ring and going astray,
    Since Jesus came into my heart;
    And my sins which were many are all washed away,
    Since Jesus came into my heart.
  3. I’m possessed of a hope that is steadfast and sure,
    Since Jesus came into my heart;
    And no dark clouds of doubt now my pathway obscure,
    Since Jesus came into my heart.
  4. There’s a light in the valley of death now for me,
    Since Jesus came into my heart;
    And the gates of the City beyond I can see,
    Since Jesus came into my heart.
  5. I shall go there to dwell in that City I know,
    Since Jesus came into my heart;
    And I’m happy, so happy as onward I go,
    Since Jesus came into my heart.

 

 

All I Want for Christmas is…What??

Ever since Donald Gardner was wishing for “two front teeth” when he composed “All I Want for Christmas”  back in 1944, the idea of thinking about what we personally want for Christmas has been a popular part of  America’s Christmas culture.  When our children were young we used to have a music ministry, and I think the broadest smiles we ever got from an audience occurred when our youngest—who was indeed missing his two front teeth that Christmas—sang the song as a solo.                                             What do you want for Christmas?
If you could reduce all your hopes and dreams to one big wish, what would it be?  I noticed that over the past thirty-two years, the name “All I Want for Christmas” has generated more Christmas movies than any other single topic. In 1982, a Happy Days episode told the story of a little girl who wished for her mother to make up with the girl’s estranged grandmother.  In the 1991 movie by the same name, a brother and sister’s ardent wish (and plot) was to get their divorced parents back together. In the  2007 version, a little boy enters a national “All I want for Christmas” video contest in the hopes of finding a new husband for his widowed mother. (We watched this one, and it’s really cute! In fact, if you’re looking for a sweet, romantic comedy this December, I think this one is a family-friendly winner!)In the 2013 version,  All I want for Christmas is a playful tale about a lovely young lady who meets Santa’s helper, “St. Nick.” You might be able to guess what she wishes for…  The 2014 All I Want for Christmas features a  young boy who wishes for a different set of parents…and learns that money isn’t everything!           This year’s edition (2017) is about a little girl who wants a pet dog. All this to say, although people may sing about wanting two front teeth for Christmas, the enduring theme over the years concerning what people really want revolves around relationships, restoration, reconciliation…about loving and being loved. After all, isn’t that what all of us want all the time? But, isn’t Christmas supposed to be about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ? Shouldn’t we be giving birthday gifts to him? What do you suppose Jesus wants? The Bible teaches us that Jesus wants the same thing all of us want: Love, reconciliation, and unity. He wants us to love God and be loved by him! God began by loving us. He sent his son Jesus to earth to live a perfect life and die in our place so that we can be forgiven for our sins, be reconciled to God, receive eternal life, and have a wonderful love relationship with him. This Christmas, can you give Jesus the gift he’s longing for? He wants you! He wants you to believe in Him, to love him, and to trust Him always. In the last prayer recorded before his death, Jesus expressed his heart’s desire: I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23, ESV).  If you want to give Jesus a gift this Christmas, how about giving him the gift of your love and devotion? By the way, have you heard that God also has a gift for you? If you feel estranged from God, please know that he’s offering you a chance to reconcile: For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). If you haven’t received his gift yet, it is my prayer that this Christmas you will!


Chocolate Lovers Deal of the Century

“The only thing better than a good friend is a good friend with chocolate.”Okay, so I interrupt my tales of our Mediterranean cruise to notify all chocolate lovers within the Realm of Meijer that the sale of the century is occurring this week. I went to our local Meijer to buy supplies for my son Joel’s birthday dinner yesterday and discovered that they were selling Nestle chocolate chips for $1 per 12-oz bag (10-oz dark or bittersweet) and the 11th bag is free. This is better than any sale I can ever remember…including Christmas promos, where $2 per bag is considered rock bottom pricing. Dare I admit that I spent $60 for a lifetime supply of chocolate? Does it help that I saved $13o.74 and the chips won’t expire for 1.5 years? That’s $1.35 per pound for milk chocolate and $1.44 for dark or bittersweet chocolate. If your family isn’t crazy about chocolate, then forget I said anything, but if your family password is “chocolate on the face” (as is ours, since Alan was sure that anyone who knocked on our bedroom door would be his child if they had chocolate on their face), and if you live where there is a Meijer store nearby, then you might want to consider investing in a little (or a lot) of chocolate this week. Just sayin’…

Of course, there’s something way, way better than a best of all chocolate sale, and that’s taking advantage of the sale on eternal life, ongoing but for a limited time only, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Have you accepted the gift of eternal life that is found only in Jesus Christ? He is the Pearl of Great Price, worth searching for with all your heart until you find Him…and worth giving up everything else in order to embrace Him as your own!