C.S. Lewis, in his book “A Grief Observed,” commented on how relationships are made uncomfortable by grief. Conversations can turn awkward. Eye contact can be weird. Since death is an enemy, it tends to do damage to those left behind. Lewis writes, “I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ [the loss of his wife] or not. I hate if they do, and if they don’t.” It’s a normal part of the grieving process, this awkwardness. If you’re the one who lost a loved one, you feel it. If you’re the one God sent to encourage and comfort, you feel it.

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This is where sensitivity to the Holy Spirit is so critical. What you choose to say can either help or hurt them. Of course if you’re like Job’s friends, you can do both good and bad. But who really wants to make things worse for our grieving friends? I certainly don’t!

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I believe if you avoid these five things in your conversations with your grieving friend, you will do well to be usable in the Master’s hands as an encouragement, a help, and a wanted companion on this dark journey of pain.

DON’T SAY: “I know exactly how you feel.”
INSTEAD SAY: “I’m deeply sorry for the pain you’re feeling.”

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NKJV)

Everyone grieves in their own way, in their own space. No two griefs are alike. That’s true even when you’re in a family who has lost the same loved one. It’s better to express your sorrow and sadness with them rather than try to comfort them by saying you know exactly how they feel. You don’t know exactly how they feel. You know a little of their pain, but you don’t know their pain.

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DON’T SAY: “How are you?”
INSTEAD SAY: “How are you right now?

“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” Psalms 46:1 (NLT)

This may not seem like a big deal, but the answer to the first question is quite obvious in a grieving person’s life. They are doing horrible. It’s better to talk to them about the moment. Speak with them about how are they in this very moment in front of you. You may find that they are in a better place than last week, or last month. They may be feeling worse. Either way, you’re serving them in the present, while they are right in front of you, and that is very helpful.

DON’T SAY: “You’ll get over it.”
INSTEAD SAY: “I pray for you regularly.”

“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy.” Philippians 1:3-4 (NKJV)

While you may see light at the end of the tunnel of grief from your own personal experience, it’s very hurtful to hear those words. None of us ‘get over it.’ We may move forward. We may be one day further than we were yesterday. We may take another step, but saying that a person will get over the loss of their loved one is both insensitive and untrue. Death is not something you get over. It’s better to encourage them with the joy of hearing how much you care for them as you pray daily or regularly for them.

DON’T SAY: “God works all things together for the good of those who love Him.”
INSTEAD SAY: “Jesus loves you. He understands grief.”

“He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” Isaiah 53:3 (NKJV)

While quoting a scripture verse like Romans 8:28 seems so very powerful, it could come at an inopportune time, or worse yet, be misunderstood as you just sharing a mere Christian cliche. You’re right that God works all things together for good, and reminding your grieving friend of God’s faithfulness can be a wise decision. However, it’s a much safer path of encouragement to remind them of the life of Jesus, a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. Remind them how He cried at the death of His friend Lazarus. Remind them of the hope of resurrection and Jesus’ power over sin and death. The reminder of an all present and loving God who is with us at all times in our pain is a very encouraging truth in the long, dark times of grief.

DON’T SAY: “You look pretty bad today.”
INSTEAD SAY: “I love you and haven’t forgotten you.”

“A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, But by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.” Proverbs 15:13 (NKJV)

If you see a sad face, that’s because your grieving friend is sad. They have been sad since the day their loved one died, and the day of the funeral, and the day the casket was lowered into the ground, and… well it’s a cloud of sadness that follows them virtually every day. It’s better to remind them that you’re here for them and that you love them. Calling out the obvious can be embarrassing and hurtful. If you see sadness, say a quick prayer in your heart, and make yourself available to your friend. You’ll find God using you in incredible ways.

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I’m sure you’ve found it difficult at times to serve your friends and loved ones who are grieving. Don’t let the awkwardness or the change in relationship discourage you. It’s normal. It’s not your fault. Your friend has forever changed. There are so many unknown details in your grieving friend’s life that you need to walk in the Spirit in order to serve them well.

C.S. Lewis remarked on grief: “We cannot understand. The best is perhaps what we understand least.” Don’t spend your time trying to figure things out or understand it all. Simply rest, trust, and rely upon Jesus Christ. It’s hard to understand, I know. Believe me, the person who’s grieving doesn’t really understand all that much either. We just cling to Jesus who loves us. His love is real. His love is lasting. His love heals our broken hearts.

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