In my last column, I shared three basic lessons I have learned from experience and the Bible on how you can help grieving friends. They were: listen to your friend; don't try to talk your friend out of their grief; and don't explain what you don't understand. Today, four more of those lessons.
Lesson four is this: Let your friend be angry with God. A deeply faithful Christian man whose granddaughter had recently died told me, "Sometimes I get angry with God. I know it's horrible; but it's true." I assured him that what he was feeling wasn't horrible. I reminded him of such people in the Bible as David and Job, who always believed in God, but also got angry with God when dealing with grief or the threat of death. And I told the grieving grandfather, "The fact that you're angry with God proves your faith in God. You would never be angry with someone you didn't think was there."
Most of the time, when we respond to people's anger, no matter its source, with condemnation, it only makes them dig in their heels. God says in Proverbs 15:1, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." Letting your friend get angry with God will prevent their anger from becoming an ongoing feature in their life.
Lesson five: Don't avoid talking about your grieving friend's loss. Often, friends fear that if they do so, they'll only make their friends feel sadder. But a grieving friend already is sad and if it seems natural to mention a friend's dead loved one, for example, or if your friend mentions that person, you should be willing to talk about them as well.
A woman once told me, "My friends avoid speaking of my late husband like a plague. What they don't seem to understand is that when they do that, it makes me feel as though they think he was unimportant or that they want to pretend he was never there." Through the years, I have heard that grieving woman's words echoed by other grieving people. You honor your friend when you're willing to discuss with them the people or circumstances they grieve.
Lesson six: Pray for your friend. You should pray that God will bring them comfort, for sure. But you also should pray that God will use you as a conduit for the blessings you want your friend to receive. Whenever I visit people who are dealing with grief, I always ask God to fill me with His Holy Spirit, allowing God's love for my friend to flow through me. Jesus says that the world will know Him when His love is visible in us. Pray that God will love your friend through you.
Finally, if you're a follower of Jesus, your friend will probably eventually want to know what has allowed you to be so helpful to them. You can honestly say that it isn't you who have been helpful, that you have prayed over every step you took with them and that God has guided you. You can tell them that you belong to an eternal God Who has destroyed the power of death and that anyone who trustingly follows Jesus Christ has hope beyond the grave. At the right time, after you've lovingly taken the journey of grief with your friend, that will come as very good news for them!