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Give People Room for Their Feelings

People need to be allowed to 'feel'.

The most helpful thing you can do for a person in a grief situation is to be able to express or pour out their feelings, whatever they are. Actually, this advice for caring applies to more situations that just grief . . . it is a general rule for any time someone needs a shoulder to cry on.

It is MOST helpful for friends or pastors to be able to be comfortable themselves with the person's feelings . . . no matter what they are. To allow a person to be angry, sad, hurt, or even hateful toward God, allows these feelings, which are ‘just feelings’, to be cleansed from the system. Perhaps they may not ever be fully gone, but as a helper, you must learn not to be threatened by whatever the person's feelings may be.

An expression like, ‘All things work together for the good of those who love God,’ is true, of course, but when it is said to a person at a time of intense grief, it communicates a message that says, "You shouldn't feel bad," and, in a way, dismisses their feelings.

It is not a caring, helpful thing to say at that moment. It seems to tell the person, indirectly, that this is an act of God, and true faith would see it as such, and therefore would not sorrow.

When someone says such words, it is with good intentions, of course; but what they are trying to do is to cheer up the other person. He thinks that when he uses that expression, it will be comforting. He doesn't think that it is good for a person to feel badly, and he himself feels awkward about what to say or do for the other person. So he tries to find something that will make the person stop showing his feelings.

But . . . they NEED to be able to express their feelings. We must not deny them this important step in their grief or loss.

The same may be said for an expression like, ‘It's the Lord's will.’ The grieving Christian is not helped by saying this to him — certainly not at this time. Telling it to him, when he is acutely feeling loss, discourages the frank and honest expression of his feelings that are so important and valuable in a healthy working out of grief.

It is far better to say to a person whom you see on the verge of tears, "Go ahead and cry. Jesus cried, too, when his friend died." Or simply say how you feel — words like, "I feel so bad about what happened." These words communicate that you understand and accept them with their feelings of loss, sorrow, and even resentment.

There are words of faith that are important — they are certainly important to you. There are words that hold great truths. But my counsel to you is to not offer them too quickly. Saying them too soon runs the risk of making them seem trite; and of giving the impression that you are not really hearing what the person is saying about their hurt; of denying them their needed time to grieve, to mourn, to face their loss.

Instead, wait for a later time when they are ready to once again pick up their own faith and to be encouraged.


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