Series: The Things We Say
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.
John 11:21 NLT
Tragedy had struck. What could I say?
As a minister, I’ve watched people endure their share of tragedies. A husband whose wife decided to drive drunk. Her actions led to the death of their small child. A father whose daughter was innocently riding her bike through their subdivision and was hit and killed. Good friends whose daughter tried to ride a bicycle that was too large and accidentally rolled into the path of an oncoming truck. A couple whose child was born prematurely and languished in the neonatal intensive care unit for months and then grew up mentally challenged.
I’ve probably been guilty of saying it, but even if I haven’t, I’ve heard many others say those infamous words: “I know how you feel,” or “I know what you’re going through.” Innocent words spoken with good intentions, but words that mean little if anything to the one who is grieving—and perhaps questioning God at the same time.
Mary and Martha were probably feeling a little confusion themselves. Their brother, Lazarus, was sick. So they sent for Jesus, thinking He would heal him. Instead of coming immediately, Jesus waited until Lazarus had died. Martha was confused.
Even if I’ve experienced something similar to what a person is going through, saying “I know how you feel” isn’t the best response to their grief. I don’t know how they feel. I know how I felt, but I can’t get inside of their body and experience their emotions. The statement usually falls on deaf ears. They may also perceive the words as an empty platitude that means nothing.
When a person is grieving, spending time with them and saying little is a good practice. If I feel the need to speak, saying, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” or “How can I help” are helpful statements. Better yet is thinking of some way to help without asking the person. In their state of mind, they usually can’t think of what they need anyway. If I have experienced something similar to their tragedy, I can always tell my story and share how God brought me through.
Depend on God to give you the right thing to say when you’re helping a grieving person.