This article is about grief, the providence of God, suffering and grace, and the victory of Jesus Christ.

Source: Clarion, 1986. 9 pages.

Dealing with Grief

How to Approach the Problems🔗

Recently I received requests from readers to publish some articles on the issue of dealing with grief. People who had experienced problems in their life and still were trying to cope with the aftermath of grief and sorrow, asked me to pay special attention to certain questions in this respect, and to deal with specific problems they had experienced. Although in cases like these the names of the people are never mentioned, and the circumstances are referred to in such a way that privacy is guaranteed, they themselves will undoubtedly see their specific questions answered. Many others, although they might not have formulated these questions in the same way, may have the same problems. One of the letters to the editor shows that these things are in the minds of many. It appears that these feelings and problems are shared by more members of the church. In this way they can support each other, and by dealing with these matters publicly via this article, also others can benefit from it.

The main question is: How do we cope with the loss of a beloved one? How do we react if something happens in our personal life? Do we have to be still, knowing and believing that it comes from the hand of the Lord, without any questioning? Or may there be a lasting scar and continuing grief? Is it a lack of faith or unbelief if the pain remains and the memories keep coming back? Or can such pain also be felt by true Christians?

An important point, in the letter I received, was the way the community, in this case the Communion of Saints, reacts and supports those who are grieving. Some attention will be paid to the task of the office-bearers in this respect. The sender of the letter struggles with the question why some apparently never face tragic situations, while others have so much with which to cope. Those who have never experienced such difficulties are less able to understand what it means, to talk about it, and to support others. Such people often avoid the subject in conversations, because they feel uneasy and do not know what to say. Some office-bearers are not even able to handle these situations. Someone who lost a beloved one wrote me: “O, how I do want to talk about it, especially the little things which I cherish, and which show me that others still remember my beloved one.” The sender of the letter asks and is puzzled. Does someone first have to go through grief to be able to help and to understand others? If that would be the case, it would be very difficult for young ministers to fulfill their task in the proper way. The sender of the letter points out that a lot of comfort and support can be given by little things, like just mentioning, during a visit, that the late mother, husband, son, or daughter, is still remembered because of what he or she did, and why he or she was appreciated. It certainly does not hurt when these things are brought up in a discussion. It does not open old wounds, which are in the process of healing. On the contrary. Instead it is felt as balm on a sore scar.

In what follows I will try to deal with all these questions in an orderly way. Don't expect a perfect and final answer. The intention of these articles is not to solve all the questions, but to make people aware of the existence of problems, to analyze them, and to give some guidelines, in order that the readers themselves can work on solving the problems in their own environment. It might also give some food for thought for those who have never kept themselves busy with the problems of these brothers and sisters. It may encourage them to use their gifts readily and cheerfully for the benefit and well-being of the other members (cp. L.D. 21, A. 55).

Is Sadness Always Wrong?🔗

One of the main questions in the whole matter is whether it is always wrong to speak about sadness when a beloved one has died. Are we allowed “to dissent” with such an event? Can we say that it pleases the Lord to take a beloved one out of this life at His time? In this respect we have to be careful that we do not get wrapped up in confusing terminology. Some words can be used in different ways. The meaning depends largely on the context in which it is used and on the intention of the person who is using it.

In a recent announcement, in a newspaper, a church expressed its sadness about the fact that their minister had passed away and stated that the membership was “very sad and dissenting.” This is certainly not the way a congregation should publicly announce the death of their minister. When we say that it all depends on who uses the expression and in which contexts it is used we have something else in mind.

The expression “it has pleased the Lord,” has to be used in the right context. Let me use an example to explain how it can be done, and how it should not be done. When a policeman is killed in the line of duty, his believing widow may say, and feel it as a comfort: “It has pleased the Lord to take to Himself at His time my beloved husband.” She sees the hand of the Lord in everything in her life. She knows that He will take care of her and that nothing happens without His direction (cp. Art. 13 B.C.). That is one side of the story. We recognize the hand of the Lord in everything in our life. But the murderer, who shot the policeman, may not talk about the pleasure of the Lord and about “His time.” He is responsible. His action did not please the Lord. He is a murderer, and he will be called to account as a murderer.

That everything is in the hand of the Lord, and that nothing happens “without His direction,” can be a comfort, but it can never be used as an excuse. There certainly can be sadness and dissent towards the man who caused the killing, but at the same time there can be the comfort that the Lord is in charge and can use everything to our benefit. Joseph's brothers were certainly not excused when they sold Joseph, to let them go to Egypt, but the Lord used this sinful move to keep His people alive during the famine. Article 13 of the Belgic Confession says it beautifully:

In this world nothing happens without His direction. Yet God is not the Author of the sins which are committed nor can He be charged with them. For His power and goodness are so great and beyond understanding that He ordains and executes His work in the most excellent and just manner, even when devils and wicked men act unjustly. And as to His actions surpassing human understanding, we will not curiously inquire farther than our capacity allows us. But with the greatest humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden for us, and we content ourselves that we are pupils of Christ, who have only to learn those things which He teaches us in His Word, without transgressing these limits.

That is the way and the contexts in which we can say that something “pleases the Lord” and that it happened “at His time.”

The Bible about Grief and Sorrow🔗

Let us now first turn to the Supreme Book, to be taught how to handle grief and sorrow, and to hear what is behind it, or what can be behind sorrow and grief in human life. What is the purpose of it? Does it have a purpose? Is the purpose always the same in all cases? Or is the purpose sometimes hidden from us as human beings, as long as we are in this life? The meaning may become clear afterward, when we will see the Lord face to face in His heavenly glory.

The Bible gives us many examples of people who suffered grief and sorrow in many different ways, and it is quite clear that the purpose was completely different each time. Let me mention a few cases and later discuss these cases more in detail, in order to see the differences.

In the book of Job we read about his suffering, and about the way his friends tried to comfort him in accordance with their traditions and philosophies. From what follows in the last chapters of the Book of Job we learn that they were wrong in their evaluations and conclusions, and they only made Job's suffering more difficult to carry. In the end the Lord gave the correct explanation.

In John 5 we read about a man who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years and who was finally healed by our Lord Jesus Christ. In his situation the purpose of his illness was completely different, as we will see later on.

In 2 Corinthians 12:7 we read that the apostle Paul suffered because of what he calls: “a thorn in the flesh.” Regardless of what nature this “thorn” might have been, (we don't know exactly what it was), it caused him a lot of sorrow and suffering, but again with a different and very specific purpose.

In Hebrews 12:5 we read in general that “the Lord disciplines him whom He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives.” Also here an indication of what the purpose of suffering and grief might sometimes be.

Still all these texts leave a lot of questions unanswered, and we must have a closer look at each of them, to find comfort in them, and to understand the message of the Word of God to each and everyone personally. With respect to Hebrews 12:5, where it says that the Lord chastises every son whom He loves, a brother who suffers much hardship and pain in his life, once said to me: “A little less 'proof' of God's love in my life would not hurt.” The meaning is clear. Why do some never have any serious problems in their life, and still they complain all the time? And why do others have to suffer so much, while they are still cheerful, grateful and spiritually thankful all the time? The Lord does not give account of His works. He does not always explain why He deals with a certain person in a specific way, but the Bible does give us a lot of information, which makes it easier to understand and accept God's dealings with His children. He can give, in His divine good pleasure, what He knows is good for us. In Matthew 20:1-16 we read about a householder who hired labourers to work in his vineyard. He paid those who came at the eleventh hour the same as those who had worked all day long. And asked why he did not pay the early workers more, he answered: “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” This parable shows us that the Lord cannot be called to account for what He is doing. He knows what He is doing and He is supremely fair in all His doings. He knows exactly what we need, although we do not always understand His purpose. In Romans 9:21 the apostle Paul uses the example of a potter.

Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use?

The Lord certainly has a purpose with everything that happens in our life, and sometimes we are used in His hands as a vessel for beauty more than we are aware of. At least, if we accept and acknowledge the hand of our heavenly Father in our whole life and if we let Him guide us in every respect.

To Show the Victory of God's Grace🔗

The history, narrated in the book of Job is a very special one, and a clear example of how there can be something going on, of which we as human beings do not have the slightest inkling. In Job 1:8-12 we read:

And the LORD said to Satan, 'Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?' Then Satan answered the LORD, 'Does Job fear God for nought? Hast Thou not put a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Thy hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse Thee to Thy face.' And The LORD said to Satan, 'Behold, all that he has is in your power; only upon himself do not put forth your hand.' So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.

There are different exegeses about the meaning of the conversation in heaven between the LORD and Satan. For our purpose they are not relevant. One thing is perfectly clear. Job was put to the test. The Lord wanted to show the perseverance of his faith and the victory of the Lord's grace in his life, in spite of all the attacks of Satan. The Lord kept Job in His hand, no matter how hard the devil tried, the break him away from the Lord. Even his wife was used and set up against him. She who was given to him as a partner, fit for him, to help him in all circumstances of life, was used by Satan to tempt him. In Job 2:9 we read that his wife said to him,

'Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.' But he said to her, 'You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?' In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Even the friends of Job, with their profound and impressive sounding philosophies, tried to lead him astray, but the Lord took care of him. Of course, Job did not understand why all this was happening. It was a unique situation. But in the end the Lord's victory became clear, and the Lord explained to Job the purpose of His work. Job was restored in his previous position and even received double of what he had before. Again, this was a very unique situation. It does not happen very often in such a way, but it shows us that sometimes the purpose of human suffering and grief can be the glorification of the Name of the Lord. Sometimes the Lord let the devil go very far in his attempt to lead people astray, but He never forsakes the works of His hand or let believers suffer more than they can carry. We might not always understand why it has to go a certain way, but we can definitely trust on His help in time of need. We know what was at stake in Job's case, and we can find comfort in it, although for Job it was at that time still a mystery. It gives us strength and encouragement in situations which we do not understand, and in which we need help. The devil might try and it can seem to be almost unbearable, but the Lord is at hand.

Job's friends were wrong in the assessment of the situation, but that should not come as a surprise. It was completely in the line of their, and even of Job's own, philosophy. What do you expect in such a situation? The Lord has revealed to us the real background of the story. That has to teach us a lesson. We have to be careful in drawing conclusions about others, and even about our own misery and the cause of it. Self-examination is always necessary. We have to consider whether the Lord has a special message for us. But at the same time we may find comfort in the Word of God. If we turn to the Lord in true faith, we can always count on His help and protection to persevere in the struggle. The story of Job closes with a happy ending. He got back everything he lost, even double of what he had before. That does not always happen. Therefore let us not make the history of Job a standard case, but just let it be an example of how the Lord can deal with His people, and above all things, a proof that the Lord has His purpose, even when we don't begin to understand His doings. That might be a comfort to all of us in difficult circumstances, in a time of sorrow and grief which might become almost too much for us.

A Thorn in the Flesh🔗

The Apostle Paul had to cope with a problem in his life. He says:

A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'

Again, we do not know exactly what this “thorn in the flesh” was and we are not going to speculate either. One thing is clear: it caused him a lot of suffering and he besought the Lord three times to have it taken away. However, the Lord considered it better for him not to take it away. It made him feel “weak,” but the Lord said to him, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” It shows us that there can be suffering in human life, brought upon us by the Lord to teach us, and to keep us humble. It was to keep the Apostle Paul down. “To keep him from being too elated” (2 Corinthians 12:7). That means, to prevent that he would become too proud and might boast in his own work. Although he thought that without this “thorn” he could function even better in the kingdom of Christ, the Lord said: “No, my grace is sufficient for you.”

How often does it happen that dedicated workers in the kingdom of the Lord become overconfident? That is a danger. If you have everything going for you, even in the service of the Lord, you have to be strong to resist the temptation of the devil. Many have fallen in this way. We do not judge concerning their relationship with the Lord and their salvation, but many overly zealous servants could not carry the luxury of being “successful.” To remain humble is always difficult. Not just to say it. That might be a matter of humble-haughtiness. You have to be humble. Apparently Saul, later called Paul, was a zealous man, and had always been that way. In Acts 22:3 we read that he was a Jew, educated according to the strict manner of the law of the fathers, being very zealous for God. He was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the most famous Jewish teachers. In 2 Corinthians 11:21 ff he says that he, humanly speaking, had every reason to boast: A Hebrew, an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, an apostle who had suffered for the sake of the gospel more than others. In Philippians 3:4, 5 he says: “If any other man thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee, as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law blameless.” Humanly speaking he had an excellent record, better than anyone else. Why did God give him such a “thorn in the flesh,” whatever it might have been? It was to keep him from boasting and trusting in his own achievements. When he prayed the Lord to have the “thorn” removed, the answer was: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” This example shows us that the Lord can bring into our lives something which causes suffering and grief, but the Lord knows what He is doing. Seeing His Fatherly Hand in all these things can give us a rich comfort and will keep us humble before the Lord.

That the Works of God Might be Made Manifest🔗

In John 9 we find another example, in which the Bible shows us something about the background of human suffering and grief. A man had been blind from his birth. According to the Jewish casuistics, sickness was always directly related to sin. With this man they had a problem. He had been blind from his birth. If it was because of his own sin, how could he have committed these sins before he was born? If it was because of the sins of his parents, it caused some problems with what is said in Ezekiel 18:20, “The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father.” Therefore they asked Jesus: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus rejects their casuistics. He shows that the Father often has a purpose which is not revealed to us. We have to trust in the Lord that He takes care of us, and makes everything subservient to our salvation, also when we cannot understand the meaning or purpose of it. The answer of Jesus is very simple. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.” That is, although in a New Testament setting, almost the same purpose as with Job. The Lord shows the victory of His grace in a person's life. In this case it was that the Lord would show His mercy and life-restoring power in the life of the man who was born blind. From what we read in the rest of the chapter, especially John 9:35-41, we learn that this man followed Jesus and confessed His name among men, even when others spoke evil of him and accused him because of his trust in Jesus the Lord and Saviour. His own father and mother forsook him. According to John 9:21-23 his parents feared the Jews, apparently more than the Lord. They were afraid that they would be thrown out of the synagogue. In John 9:22 we read that “the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Him to be the Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.” In this man's life the works of God really became manifest. He chose to follow Jesus rather than to obey men in denying his Saviour. In his life came true what was written in Psalm 27:10, “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me up.”

Also in this case we have to be careful that we do not give it a general application, and try to use it in all kinds of specific situations. The cases mentioned in the Bible are all unique. Still we can learn from it, and each and everyone should make the application in his or her own life, but let us not be too eager to make applications for others. That there can be a relationship between suffering and sin becomes clear from the next example.

That Nothing Worse Befall You🔗

In John 5 we read about the healing of a man who had been ill for thirty-eight years. Also this man was healed by Jesus. However, his reaction was quite different from that of the man who had been born blind. In the first place it is remarkable that we, in his situation, do not read a word about thankfulness. We do not read that he believed in Jesus as the Christ, or that he confessed His Name. On the contrary. Asked about his healing, and the fact that this healing had taken place on the Sabbath, he had to admit that he did not even know who it was, that had healed him. Apparently he had not done much to show his thankfulness, and he certainly had not accepted it as a work of the Son of God. Another remarkable thing is what we read in John 5:14. Jesus met him in the temple and made Himself known to him in a very special way. Jesus said, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” That gives us the impression, that there might have been a relationship between his sickness and his sin. In the midst of the crowd Jesus had not talked to this man about his sins, but now, in a private, pastoral conversation, our Lord warns him, to live a life pleasing to the Lord. The reaction of the man is even more surprising. The man who was born blind confessed the Name of the Lord as his Saviour, even if it cost him the good relationship with his parents and even while he knew that he would be thrown out of the synagogue. However, this man, without being further questioned by the Jews, went, on his own initiative, to the leaders, to justify himself for having transgressed the rules of the Sabbath, and to blame Jesus for letting him carry his bed on the Sabbath. John 5:16 says clearly: “And this was why the Jews persecuted Jesus, because he did this on the Sabbath.”

Certainly a completely different picture than with the blind man who was cured. It strengthens the impression that in this case there might have been a relationship between his suffering and his walk of life. We do not speculate, as some do, about the question whether this man was later punished with a more severe illness. What we should take to heart from this story is, that there certainly can be a relationship between suffering and sin. However, that is not a public matter. Jesus did not discuss this matter in the midst of the crowd. He talked with the man later on privately, and gave him a warning, leaving the responsibility for his reaction up to him. Also here we do not find a case which should be generally applied, especially not to others. Although each one might for himself consider whether there is a message in it for him or her personally, we have to be careful in applying it to others and judging another. Then we would make the same mistake that the three friends of Job made in judging their friend and applying the rules of their own homemade casuistics. David shows us a better way in Psalm 139:23,

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead in the way everlasting!

Also in Psalm 51 David teaches us a lesson. It is a prayer to be purged and cleansed by the Lord. David examines himself, and he asks the Lord to create in him a clean heart and a right spirit. Suffering and grief might lead and should lead to self-examination. But in this way the Lord also gives rich comfort. He does not forsake those who call on His Holy Name. Paul complains in Romans 7 about his struggle, his weakness, and his continually falling in sin. But in Romans 8 he comes to a different level. He sings the praise and glory of the Lord after he has gone through much pain in his heart. He knows and confesses, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.” That is the wonderful work of the Lord and the rich comfort we receive in Him. Suffering and grief can bring us closer to the Lord. For a while it can make people upset, and make them loose almost every ground in their life. However, those who trust in the Lord and continually pray to Him will experience the truth of what we read in Hebrews 4:14-16. We have a great High Priest in heaven, who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, because in every respect He has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Therefore we can with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, and we can be assured that we will receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Exactly in time, and never too late.

Some Conclusions🔗

The Bible tells us about a number of different cases in which people experience suffering and grief. The reason behind it can be completely different. We have to be careful that we not too easily categorize others. We have to examine our own heart but we have to leave it up to the Lord to judge others.

In the example of Job we have seen that there was a struggle going on between the Lord and the devil. The Lord showed, in the life of Job, the victory of His grace, although Job and his friends were not aware of this background and came to wrong conclusions.

In the case of the man who was born blind, there was no specific sin in his life nor in the life of his parents, but it was, that the works of God might be made manifest.

With the man who had been ill for thirty-eight years, we get the impression that there was a relationship between his way of life and his suffering. He received the warning: “Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.”

Paul suffered, because he was given a thorn in the flesh, to keep him from being too elated. When he asked to be relieved from this “thorn,” because he thought it hindered him in his work as a preacher, the Lord answered him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

In general we can learn from Hebrews 12:6 that “The Lord disciplines him whom He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives.” In verse 8 he even says: “If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, than you are illegitimate children and not sons.”

When we are confronted with cases of suffering and grief we have to be careful that we not try to categorize every case according to one of the examples. We have to bear in mind that they are all special cases, used by God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ for a very specific purpose. Further we have to realize that in most cases different aspects are involved at the same time, and that the Lord does not always give account or an explanation, as in the cases mentioned above. Finally, we have to leave it up to each individual to determine (if they ever will) what the purpose of their suffering and grief is. It is certainly not up to us to translate it in a personal message.

How to Approach🔗

Now we come to the practical question how we have to approach families who suffer grief. Very often we hear the complaint, as it was also voiced in a letter I received, that most people shy away from the issue and avoid speaking about it. Sometimes they even stay away from people who experience grief, because they do not know what to say and how to comfort. In one letter the complaint was heard that during the house visitation the elders did not feel comfortable when the matter was brought up, and soon changed the topic. Still the people themselves wanted to talk about it. Not to complain about what they had gone through, but to cherish the memories of beloved ones, who were also remembered by others. What is the proper approach in such a situation? Do people ask too much if they want to bring up the past and talk about it? Or are the visitors wrong in evading the issue, afraid they will open old scars? There are two aspects we have to consider, and two dangers we have to watch out for. In this and the next section I will try to pay attention to both aspects in a balanced way.

Why do we hear so often the complaint that people shy away from the issue, change the topic when it is brought up, or do not show up at all, although they have been good friends before? This is a real problem generally! I have heard it many times in my pastoral practice, while dealing with grieving families. Although I personally always have seen it as one of the most rewarding parts of my task as a pastor, many do not dare, or at least hesitate, to visit someone who is terminally ill and knows that he or she will soon die. It seems that many people, while visiting, only want to say positive things. When they greet such a person they often say things like: “you still look very good.” “You are doing better than last time.” “There seems to be some improvement.” “It is not as bad as I had expected.” Or, if all these things obviously are not in place, then at least they like to say: “Considering the circumstances it is not too bad.” Did you ever think about this reaction? Why not a more realistic approach? Why not simply say: “I see you are very sick, you must have a lot of pain. I see that it is getting worse.” Sometimes it seems that the visitor tries to play down the seriousness of the suffering. That might be an attempt to comfort and to uplift the person, but it certainly is a wrong approach, because it gives the impression and the feeling that the visitor does not realize the magnitude of the problem. It is often felt as evading or denying reality and is no comfort at all for the one who suffers.

Many people, especially those who have never suffered or faced grief, do not know how to show compassion. The best advice that can be given is, to listen first, to show that you understand, and if people want to talk about their grief, do not change the subject. They need an outlet, and appreciate your listening. And if people grieve about someone who has been taken away, don't avoid speaking about it or bringing it up. Many people don't dare to talk about the past in such a situation, because they are afraid they will open old wounds. However, in most cases the opposite is true. If the wound is still open, speaking about it is often as a balm upon the wound. If the wound has been healed, it is still a comfort and something to cherish, if people show that they still remember the beloved one who has been taken away. One person wrote me how much it meant for them, when people, after a number of years, made a remark about their child, parent, or spouse who had passed away. That does not open wounds at all. They cherish the memory and feel good if you show that you also remember them.

One thing you have to watch out for, and it is a mistake, quite often made without being aware of it. When you visit some one who is seriously ill or who has a beloved one who is sick, don't come with all kinds of stories about similar cases. It happens too often that when someone visits another person who is sick or a relative of someone who is seriously ill, he begins a story – not being very thoughtful – about “a friend of mine who had the same and who also died.” It is little comfort for someone who is ill to hear all these stories about other people, either the problems of the visitor himself or about some of his friends. The patient instead needs attention for his or her personal circumstances.

Another piece of advice to visitors is, although you should never shy away from a specific issue or avoid speaking about it, you should not overdo it either. You should also talk about other things, especially if the patient is interested in it. And often they are still interested, and want to hear about all kind of things of everyday life. If you speak openly and straightforward about the real problem, then there is also room for other conversations. Even terminally ill people sometimes appreciate it, if a visitor speaks about the news of everyday life. Of course, if a patient is very weak, you should not begin a discussion among the visitors about heavy subjects. But also sick people like to talk about the little things which meant a lot to them in life. They don't like being singled out or put on the sidelines. Once, in the Netherlands, I visited a terminally ill lady almost every day for a number of weeks, until she passed away. On a Sunday, a few days before she died, I dropped in after the service and she, in spite of her serious condition, started talking about the new suit I was wearing. She still was interested in the matters of everyday life.

To Cherish Grief🔗

In the previous section we saw how important it is to talk about relatives who have passed away, because the survivors cherish the memories of their beloved ones. Now we have to be careful in another direction. It is a good thing to cherish precious memories, but it is quite another thing to cherish grief and sorrow. That is a danger those who went through a difficult time and lost a beloved one have to be aware of. When the Lord has taken away a beloved one we may wonder why it happened. We do not always understand the purpose of the Lord, neither do we receive an answer to all our questions. We cannot categorize each case according to one of the examples we have taken from Scripture. Every case is unique and, although some aspects of these Biblical examples can be applied, we can never directly identify our situation to one of them.

Life goes on. We can never forget and although wounds might heal, they always leave a scar. However, those who survive still have a task in life and they have to carry on, no matter how difficult the task seems to be. Therefore they have to be careful not to cherish their grief instead of the precious memories. That would be a lack of thankfulness for the precious gifts the Lord has given them, and a denial of the task which still lies ahead.

Active Support🔗

In 1 Corinthians 12:26 we read: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.” That should be the case and should be more and more experienced within the communion of saints. It is nice when all the members join in a party at a festive occasion, but it is no less important that we join in carrying each others burdens. That is, according to Galatians 6:1, the way we have to fulfil the law of Christ.

Such support should be given in the proper way and at the proper time. No one will deny that support should be given to those who have grief and sorrow. We have to support those who have lost a beloved one. That, in itself, is already difficult enough. As I have tried to point out in a previous section, many do not know how to speak and how to listen. They feel uncomfortable in a place where grief and sorrow is. Especially those who have never been confronted by death. Still, when you visit such people, and try to act as normal as possible, it will often be felt as a relief, for the visitor no less than for those who are visited. Every artificial attitude should be avoided. The personal feelings should be respected. Keep in mind one basic rule for such visits: it is not the question how you feel most comfortable during such a visit, but whether you serve the others and make them feel comfortable. A too lengthy visit in a time that already many are visiting, can become a burden, because no one wants to ask his visitors to leave, although lots of other things are waiting, and need to be done.

We mentioned already that visiting those who suffer losses and who carry grief might be difficult enough. More difficult seems to be to keep it up. We hear quite often from widows, that at first they received lots of visitors. All the friends of the deceased husband came. But very soon they stayed away. Some ladies drop by once in a while, but the friends of the husband are gone. A general complaint of widows is that they are more or less placed in a category of people who are only interested in housekeeping, while they have lost contact with what goes on in church life and in public life. They have no husband to keep them informed and to talk with. And if they receive visitors it is often only the ladies. I have heard quite often that also widows appreciate it very much when they receive a visit from a couple or some couples, where they can take part in discussions about issues which are not so often discussed when there are only ladies present. After all, they belong to the communion of saints and this communion is certainly not a matter of the sisters only.

These things need our attention, to see whether we show and exercise the communion of saints in this respect. It is not without importance that the apostle says in James 1:27:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and keep oneself unstained from the world.

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