Putting a Bandaid on Others' Grief and Pain

How Can We Avoid Putting a Bandaid on Others’ Grief and Pain?

When Jesus singled out Peter, James, and John to sit with him in the Garden of Gethsemane, his instructions to them were brief and straightforward:
“Remain here and watch.”

He asked them to stay in a particular place and be on guard, to be awake and be with him.

Mark 14:35-36 describes Jesus’s pleading prayer for relief from the manner of death he knew was coming. It also reveals the eventual surrender of Jesus’s human nature to the divine will.

Sadly, the dynamic trio missed it all. Three times.

The disciples missed the opportunity to witness the purity of obedience.
Jesus missed the comfort of fellowship in his suffering.

Fast Asleep in the Presence of Grief

A reader recently asked me a searching question about this scene from Mark’s Gospel: “Mark describes Jesus as greatly distressed and troubled, sorrowful to death. If Jesus felt this way, why do we, as Christians, often just try to put a band-aid on others’ grief and pain?”

Like Jesus’s three disciples of the inner ring, we carry on the tradition by falling fast asleep in the presence of suffering. We miss the opportunity to bear witness, to offer comfort.

How can we do better?

Jesus felt distressed and troubled. Why do Christians often just put a band-aid on others’ grief and pain? Falling asleep in the presence of suffering, we miss the opportunity to bear witness and offer comfort. How can we do better?

Reading through the book of Job last month, I couldn’t help but notice that Job’s three “comforters” were most effective before they opened their mouths!

They wept aloud, and each man tore his robe and threw dust into the air and on his head. Then they sat on the ground with him seven days and nights, but no one spoke a word to him because they saw that his suffering was very intense.

Job 2:12-13

If You REALLY Want to Help Someone in Grief or Pain

It wasn’t long, though, before Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar felt compelled to offer words of wisdom, and I’ve fallen into the same trap myself.

In her writing, Nancy Guthrie brings clarity and a measure of confidence to people like me:  those of us who want to help and bring comfort to our grieving friends but want to avoid saying all the wrong words and assuming things that are not true.  Her “research” for What Grieving People Wish You Knew was gritty and uninvited, and it began on the day when her infant daughter Hope was diagnosed with a rare and fatal metabolic disorder.  Grief “barged through the door,” and Hope’s 199-day life was a day-by-day goodbye that was all too short.

Certainly, this experience alone would qualify a well-known Bible teacher like Nancy to speak wisdom into the lives of those who grieve, but then, a year and a half after Hope’s death, Nancy discovered that she was, once again, pregnant with a baby who had the fatal syndrome and who also lived for about six months.  Working through all this sadness sharpened Nancy’s awareness that, when Christians try to help those who have suffered losses, we mainly reveal that we just don’t “get it.”

In response, she conducted an online survey in which she asked grieving people for examples of what others said or did for them that proved to be helpful and meaningful. Some were as simple (and as obvious) as using the name of the deceased in casual conversation or sharing pictures and memories with family members.

Words Are Not a Bandaid

It was a relief to me to learn that “it matters less what you say than that you say something.”  In fact, “even if you come up with the perfect thing to say (as if there is such a thing), it simply won’t fix the hurt or solve the problem of the people who are grieving.”  Additional insights from the survey included:

  • Grieving is as unique as the individuals who grieve.  There is no one-size-fits-all comfort formula.
  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Don’t assume anything about their feelings, about the spiritual condition of the deceased, or that your own grief experience is comparable — or helpful to share.
  • Don’t feel the need to be a fixer.
  • Examine your heart for selfish motives in your caring or for a warped tendency to get your own need for significance met by ministering to your grieving friend.

Nancy quotes Dr. Kenneth Haugk who cautions us that if you hear yourself starting a sentence with the words “Well, I . . “; “When I . . .”; “I remember . . .”; or “My . . . ” — just don’t say it.

Other red flags that call for a re-thinking of our words include:

“Well, at least . . .”
“It was God’s will . . .”
“I know someone else who . . .”
“God took him/her so that . . .”

Esteeming the sadness and suffering of those we love will look like patience and will keep us from putting a deadline on someone else’s grieving process.  It will keep us from looking away when they cry and will give us the courage to shed our own tears in their presence because this demonstrates the fact that their particular sadness is worth grieving for.  Our shared sadness is tangible evidence of our love.

Words, no matter how wise or biblical, can’t fix or hold together a broken heart. To avoid “putting a bandaid on” someone’s grief and pain, make sure your theology of suffering is biblical, but don’t feel compelled to teach a theology class to friends or family in the midst of grief or pain. Instead, stay wide awake in the presence of their suffering–and then offer them the gift of yourself.

Holding you in the Light,

Words, no matter how wise or biblical, can’t fix or hold together a broken heart.

How Will You Come Close to God in the Days Leading up to Easter? (Here’s a FREE Resource to Help…)

February 22 was Ash Wednesday, the day on the church calendar that ushers us into Lent and our pondering of Christ’s great work on the cross. Every year, I appreciate this work of the heart that prepares me for a true celebration of resurrection on Easter Sunday.

As a gift to my newsletter subscribers, I’ve created a collection of 20 devotional readings called Come Close to the Story. This Lenten season I invite you to join me for a daily pause—most readings should take five minutes or less—to come close to the story. In your busy life, remember that Easter is on its way. Affirm your belief in resurrection power, and then admit that without a death, there would be no resurrection.

Every month I send a newsletter with biblical encouragement straight to my subscribers’ email inboxes. Frequently, I share free resources, and the newsletter is where everything lands first. I’m committed to the truth that women can become confident followers of God and students of his Word, and it’s my goal to help you along that path.

To add this free resource to your pursuit of biblical literacy and receive access to Come Close to the Story in time for your Lenten observance, simply enter your email and then click on the button below…

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Ash Wednesday is a day to grow in our understanding of where to take our struggle with sin.

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Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

11 thoughts on “How Can We Avoid Putting a Bandaid on Others’ Grief and Pain?”

    1. I don’t think we ever get comfortable talking about loss. I’m grateful for the opportunities God has given me to listen to the broken hearts of friends and to sit with them in their sadness, but It’s certainly not something I’m good at, so I really appreciated Nancy Guthrie’s input!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. […] How Can We Avoid Putting a Band-Aid on Others’ Grief and Pain? “A reader recently asked me a searching question about this scene from Mark’s Gospel: ‘Mark describes Jesus as greatly distressed and troubled, sorrowful to death. If Jesus felt this way, why do we, as Christians, often just try to put a band-aid on others’ grief and pain?'” […]


    1. I do, too, and it’s clear that Nancy has earned the right to speak into our discomfort with the suffering of others. So much wisdom—hard won.
      I do Appreciate your reading!


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