Last Saturday I had the privilege of speaking at a tea honoring Gold Star Mothers whose children have been killed in a branch of the service of the United States. Having no similar experience, I felt very inadequate to bring a message to them. When I worked on church staffs, I often faced comparable situations—bringing comfort to people handling difficult trials. Even when we shared common hurts, I wasn’t sure how to respond.
What does it mean to weep with those who weep, as 1 Corinthians 12:15 says?
First, it means to give God’s love. Faking doesn’t cut it. As I face someone hurting, I ask God to help me see her as he does, love her as he does, and respond to her in his wisdom. I know there are techniques about listening, but unless my heart is in it, it shows. When we truly care, our hearts lead us to really listen.
Second, it means to sit in silence, weeping inside or outside with the hurting person. At one time I was afraid to show my tears for fear that I would upset her. She is already upset; tears show love and concern. Jesus wept when he saw and heard the weeping at Lazarus’s death, although he knew that he was about to resurrect him. He cried with those who grieved, and we must do the same.
Third, it means to listen with little talking. To love a person well, we listen without interrupting because we truly want to know what she is feeling and allow her to express it, as long as it takes. Don’t fall for the temptation to speak. For the talkers among us, this takes the power of the Spirit. Pray for the patience to listen and wait for her to speak.
Fourth and very importantly, it means avoiding the temptation to tell your own story, even when it contains similar experiences. This isn’t about you at this point, and sharing about yourself only minimizes the depth of her pain and the uniqueness of her story. Your experience is not exactly the same anyway. (The time may come when it is appropriate to talk about yourself, but not early and not when there is so much pain.) This also helps us with those facing difficulties far beyond our own. Having similar trials isn’t necessary to show love, compassion, and care; in fact, it can distract us from the other person’s pain.
Fifth, it means refraining from quoting Bible verses and Christian platitudes. Jesus didn’t do that in Lazarus’s case, and we shouldn’t either. Only when Mary and Martha brought up theological issues did he begin to teach them that he is the resurrection and the life. Wait until the appropriate time. God is able to bring to mind the truths that someone knows when the time is right. First, there is a season to grieve, even when the loved one is in heaven (John 14:1-4; I Cor. 5:8) and despite knowing that God will use the situation for good (Rom. 8:28-29).
Sixth, it means giving someone permission to grieve and work through her anger toward God. Let her be as honest with you as she is with God, just as David is in so many of his psalms. God can take it and isn’t surprised. Don’t put expectations on Christians that force them to hide their real feelings.
Finally, it often means simply expressing how sorry you are for the situation. There is no need to say more.
The most helpful resource I found on this subject was written by the man who founded Stephen Ministries, Kenneth C. Haugk: Don’t Sing Songs to a Heavy Heart: How to Relate to those who are Suffering.
Every one of us will be called on to weep with those who weep. Let’s do it well.