700 years before Jesus was born the prophet Isaiah predicted many things about him. The famous passage in Isaiah 53 says that Jesus would be, “a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.” (Isa 53:3). Jesus was in tune with those who were suffering because he knew what it meant to suffer.
In John 11, Jesus found out that Lazarus, his friend, was sick. By the time Jesus got there Lazarus had died. Lazarus’ sisters, who were good friends of Jesus, were upset that Jesus hadn’t gotten there sooner. When you read John 11:20-37 it is obvious Mary and Martha are suffering due to the death of their brother Lazarus. You can hear it in the words they say and the disappointment they faced (they had sent for Jesus earlier but Jesus delayed because he wanted to show the power of God by raising Lazarus from the dead – 11:1-14 for that part of the story).
How does Jesus respond to these sisters, his friends, who had just lost their brother? When we think about comforting the bereaved we usually start with wondering what we are going to say. Jesus shows us that there is a better place to start than that. There are two things Jesus offers them before he says a single word. We can learn a lot from these two things that we need to put into practice when comforting those who have lost loved ones.
1 – Presence
Jesus is with them. Presence is powerful. Presence can often speak louder and more profoundly than any words or advice we might want to offer. Presence is powerful because it communicates the commitment of an ongoing relationship with that person in the pain, through the pain and through anything else the world can throw at the person who is mourning.
2 – Listen
Jesus hears what they have to say before saying anything himself. James 1:19 truly does apply here, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak”. Jesus knows he has the solution and will raise Lazarus from the dead and yet he patiently listens to their disappointment and sorrow. We can’t raise the dead but sometimes we talk with those who mourn as if we have some special wisdom or power that we need to let them in on. Start with presence and listening before you have permission to say a word. Why on earth do we feel such pressure to say the perfect thing to those who are hurting?
Sometimes we try to offer up advice to those who have lost a loved one. That is usually not the best move. That is not the time they want to hear about God needing the one who died in heaven or trying to give reasons why things are better now even if they don’t feel like it. That brings us to our last point.
We aren’t Jesus – Jesus had the perfect answer. We don’t always have that perfect answer. We must be careful what we say to those who are mourning. It may seem smart. It may seem like it would comfort them but some things aren’t helpful at all. What are some things you have heard people say or maybe even you said yourself to those who mourn that weren’t appropriate?
If you struggle with that maybe you need to take Bob Newhart’s advice…