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When Grief Comes Knocking at A Neighbor’s Door, Do I Bring over a Casserole?

By Elaine Pratt —

We sat in the ultrasound room, and I remember the silence of the sonographer as she looked at the screen. “Your doctor will give you the results of the scan,” she began.

“Can you tell me what you see?” I probed, “I know what’s at stake here.”

“I’m sorry. The baby has no heartbeat.”

Those words ushered Jon and me into a reality we had never imagined. Just four days later, at 33 weeks of gestation, I delivered a 4 lb. stillborn baby boy. In the weeks that followed, we navigated through breath-robbing grief, waves of emotion, and surreal losses as we buried the son we had come to love so fiercely. How does one go on in the face of such pain?

God. And His people.

Part of this journey would include God working through people to provide presence and provision in our time of need. And inside of me God would use this loss to birth a lifelong passion of walking alongside others in their places of pain. Each kind of suffering as different as their individual situations, but all sharing a common thread: pain is lessened as it is shared, in God’s design, through the care of another.

May I offer four observations that every child of God can grab hold of in this calling to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15)?

1. Ignoring or avoiding the hurting person can be extremely painful. Whether you are a

stranger or her best friend, you can say something to acknowledge the pain and

express your concern. To not do this can seem especially callous and hurtful. Just

do it. Send a card. Speak a word. Don’t just walk by.

2. Pain longs to be heard so listening can be a precious gift. Ask open-ended questions

which give opportunity for the hurting to speak. Then later ask again. And weeks

later, again.

  • If you don’t know someone well: “I don’t know you well, but I am so sorry. Can you share how I can be praying for you?”

  • For someone you know better: “How are you doing since _________ ? How can I pray for you?” or, “What seems to be especially hard these days?” or, “Is there a specific need I can pray for?”

Don’t rush to end the conversation. Allow silent pauses and don’t grow uneasy at

quiet tears. Grief is a messy process. Being present can be life-giving.

And men, you can be a powerful tool in God’s comfort repertoire as you move toward

a hurting person, even if she is female, with a simple acknowledgement. Don’t

assign your wife this task every time.

3. Sufferers speak out of their pain, so don’t be quick to judge or give immediate

theology lessons. Yes, God is in control. He does work all things for good. It could be

worse and the person could’ve broken the other leg, too. It has been awhile since the

divorce and that relationship does not define them. God does promise to be with us.

But propositional truth is not a good analgesic for raw pain, and often these

responses, if given too hastily, can imply it is unspiritual to hurt. Allow pain to be

expressed without rushing to answer it. Giving pain a voice plays a vital role in how

God brings healing. Don’t short circuit the process; instead, assist it with gentle,

patient kindness and lots of mercy.

4. In their pain, sufferers will undoubtedly splash you with mud; don’t be defensive or

offended. Expectations, indifference to your life/struggles, preoccupation,

withdrawal, accusations—these are a sampling of what may come. These responses

can be hard to bear, especially when you’ve tried to help this sufferer through a

painful ordeal. Give them mercy. Love without conditions. Know this is temporary.

Assume the best and give them a pass. Remember James’ wise admonition: Mercy

triumphs over judgment (2:13).

In the stillborn death of our son, Jon and I grieved in completely opposite ways. Jon expressed 85% of his grief in the hospital room as we held, cried over and said goodbye to our son’s body. I was giddy with emotion and relief, having made it through the birth process. For me, the weeks that followed were a landmine of emotional ups and downs. I spent hours asking questions, talking aloud my thoughts and feelings, and was grateful to have one who patiently listened, allowed my tears, and probed without judgment.

I’m thankful someone counseled us not to judge the other in our individual expressions of grief. It would’ve been easy for Jon to grow impatient with me; I could have easily judged him to be callous or uncaring as he seemed to so quickly re-enter normal life. But God aided us through the wise words of another.

We live in a broken world with much pain that will inflict its harm on us and those around us. But God’s brilliant plan is to provide comfort and help through the hands, feet, mouths, smiles, listening ears, and sometimes tangible help of others.

Indeed, as you pray for one who is suffering, the answer to the prayer you are offering might just be you. When grief comes knocking at a neighbor’s door, by all means, show up and help to answer it.

Casserole or not.

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