The Cloak of Grace

The Cloak of Grace: Bringing Comfort (part 2)

February 14, 2017

Bringing Comfort Through the Warmth of Your Words

Have you ever experienced a significant loss before? An unpredictable event that turns your whole world upside down?

Some losses can be traumatic.

By definition, trauma is: a sudden upheaval. A jolt. An unexpected blow. And sadly, it is a part of life.

In my last post, I shared about the loss of my father and the emotional and spiritual disorientation that left my heart groping in the shadows of grief. I described in graphic detail just how dark that season had really been.  And many readers could relate to the raw emotions I had described.  Through comments shared, I understood better that I was not alone in just how jarring sudden tragedy can be—especially when it comes so unexpectedly.

The Apostle Paul experienced this kind of pain in his own life as well.  He had suffered the loss of friends through both death and betrayal, the favor of his religious family and the funds associated with that, ministry partners, social status, dignity, and even basic physical comforts.

And now he finds himself huddled in the corner against the cold and blackened stones of the prison walls. He has suffered beatings, broken bones, open wounds, hunger… and now was awaiting the penalty for the crime of his faithful service to God. One that would require his very life.  “Now would be a good time for a rescue, God.” must surely have been his thoughts.

For a believer, it can throw one for a loop when things do not go according to plan. And though I certainly didn’t consider myself exempt from serious pain, I did expect that certain miracles were mine for the asking. Dad’s rescue from the sudden onslaught of such a rare disease was one of them.

I’ll never forget the afternoon after the burial service, when my mother and I made our way out of the woods and back into the house to settle by the fire.  As we sat with my children, she posed the faith-fatal question.  You know–the one that could cause someone to doubt in God’s love and power.

“Why didn’t God heal him?” Her question was followed by the statement that seemed obvious to us all: “Healing him would have brought so much more glory to God than letting him die.”

I wondered how I would win the wrestling match of these very questions in my own soul.  And as we sat there, I worried.  Perhaps my children’s faith must surely be facing the same trial as ours.

I wanted to defend God openly.  I wanted to tell everyone that we needn’t be angry with Him; somehow fearing that His reputation might be on the line. I wanted to make Him look better to them than He was currently looking to me.

Wait! I needed to defend God’s power, faithfulness, and love? I needed to make excuses for His decisions and subsequent actions?

Heck no!

All bets were off!  This situation had gone amuck, and He seemed clearly too busy to show up in that hospital room a week earlier to save the day.

The kids sat staring at their grandmother whose assurance in her Lord was clearly under fire.

Isn’t that just Satan’s way?  He doesn’t play fair and he’ll take our weakest moment to pull the trigger on our trust in God and His care for us.

I have come to learn that there are no neat and tidy answers regarding the unexpected conclusion of God’s final decisions. Two years later, I still do not understand the end result of our journey through Dad’s last days.

But as we sat quietly watching the pain in her eyes, my oldest son soberly offered the only answer necessary. He recounted the words from Timothy Keller’s book: Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.

“We can be sure that our prayers were answered precisely in the way we would have wanted them to be answered if we knew everything God knows.”

Silence…

Wait. Could you repeat that please?

“We can be sure that our prayers were answered precisely in the way we would have wanted them to be answered if we knew everything God knows.” Timothy Keller

The proverbial pin dropped to the floor. What else could be said?

Words spoken with the power to obliterate the abandonment felt.

God had not left us the day that my father had. Nor had He misstepped or miscalculated Dad’s arrival time into Eternity. God is all-knowing.  His ways are higher than ours and His view of our lives is on an entirely different plane.  And as a dear friend once told me, our future is already His history. And for those who put their blind trust in Him, there is no safer place to rest your faith.

No. Safer. Place.

We quietly pondered Keller’s words and with sad but somewhat steadied hearts, we did what my dad would have wanted us to do. We spent time together. And with brave faces, we made memories while throwing down a mean game of Balderdash—a game he would have thoroughly enjoyed and most likely won. And we chuckled our way through the remaining hours of one of the saddest days of our lives.

God’s grace was literally tangible that evening.  The words spoken became the cloak that warmed our hearts that day.

Later mom would receive a card with another profound truth that would reconcile her faith even more. The profoundness of the statement written was beyond reassuring.

“Just remember…he is with God and God is with you.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.  These two nuggets of encouragement carry mom and me even today.

The Tangible Cloak of Comfort

While leaning against the cold masonry wall, Paul writes feverishly; sending out a request to his good friend, Timothy.  He bids him to come quickly.  His time on earth is nearing an end, and he has just declared the memorable words “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith; and oh the joy that is awaiting me in Heaven!” And while he is doing his best to speak positively, he is terribly miserable.

“Please, Timothy, bring me my cloak.  The one I left in Troas.  The one that will warm my broken body.  I need my cloak. And hurry, please! Winter is coming.”

God recently showed me that when we bring comforting words and scriptures to the battered and broken, we are wrapping—or cloaking, someone in grace. And because our approach should be one filled with humility and understanding, now is not the time for a pious posture. We needn’t deliver hasty clichés in an attempt to help someone get over it and move on. We will not be able to wrap this thing up quickly and call it done.  The journey of grief and loss is a long, hard road.

It isn’t easy to know what to say to someone in trying times, is it?  We must ask the Spirit to speak His words through us to help bring healing to those in need.

So as promised in the last article, let’s examine what is helpful to say as well as what is not. If, in reading, you find yourself guilty of saying a few of the things we shouldn’t say, know that I have too. But, now is not the time to feel like a loser.  Let’s learn from our well-meaning mistakes and move forward into being people used by Him to extend Cloaks of Grace to warm the hurting heart.

To Say or Not To Say. That is the question.

Please do not say: I know exactly how you feel.

I’ve been guilty of making this very statement, especially since my father’s death.  But the truth is that no, I do not know exactly how you feel.  How can I?  We all process grief differently.  And just as physical pain tolerances vary in human beings, so do emotional pain tolerances.  There are far too many variables for any one of us to lay claim to know exactly how another is feeling and coping. This statement conveys the person’s loss to seem standard, typical, ordinary and therefore less significant.

So, instead say:

“I cannot imagine how deeply you must be hurting right now. I’m so sorry. I’m praying.”

Please do not say: Everything happens for a reason.

Human tendency is to secure a valid reason for why things happen. Otherwise, we can’t cope with the absurdity of the situation.  But the reality is, we may go through the rest of our life never knowing why God allows certain things to happen.  It may never make sense. God is the only One Who may ever know why.  This statement indicates a need to try to make the situation less confusing. However, loss is confusing. Be awkwardly okay with this.

Therefore, you can say:

“It’s so hard to not know why this has happened. I don’t have the answer. But I am praying that God brings you peace in the middle of the ‘not knowing’. And that you’ll come to trust His promise to work all of this out for your good. Somehow.”

Please do not say: Your loved one is in a better place.

In the mind of the one left on this side of the chasm of Eternity, the better place for their loved one to be is here on earth with them. Even though we all know that to be in Heaven, free from all sickness and pain, is the ultimate prize, stating the obvious brings little comfort.

So instead say:

“I know that it must bring little comfort to know that he is in Heaven when all you want is for him to be here with you right now. I’m sure the pain of missing him is more than you can bear. My prayer is that you will feel God near you, holding you in the times when you feel very alone.”

Please do not say: Well, at least he lived a good long life and you had many years together.

Who determines the length of anyone’s life to have been long enough? And who determines the years that a couple was together to have been a good long while?  The grieving widow will tell you that 60 years with him wasn’t long enough.  The one left to keep going will tell you that she wishes for even one more day.

So instead say:

“You lived your lives together so beautifully all these years; yet I know you must long for more time with him. I’m so sorry your time together ended all too soon.”

Please do not say: You need to be strong. He would want you to be.

Grief causes fatigue in all aspects of life. Weakness is normal in this situation. Now isn’t the time to remind someone to be strong.  This only brings a sense of guilt when they aren’t. Instead, give them a pass to be less than stoic, for quite a while.  They’ll catch up. In time.

Rather say:

“I’m praying for God to give you His strength in the days ahead.  Remember that it’s okay to lean on Him; knowing that in our weakness, He is strongest. I’m praying that you feel His strength and support even today.”

Please do not say: You’ll be better soon. Time has a way of healing all wounds.

It’s best to avoid stating the obvious or trying to predict the future; and they will actually resist the idea that they will ever be okay again. The fact is, the person doesn’t even want to think about the future.

Rather say:

“I honestly have no idea of when you’ll ever feel okay again.  But my prayer is that with time and His help, the pain will lessen for you. But for now, it’s okay to tell me that it hurts like ___ and that you’re not okay. I’ll understand.”

Please avoid asking: How are you doing?

The one who is struggling would most of the time, rather not elaborate on how they are doing. Most will only do the bobble-headed nod with a half-hearted smile and say very few words. Honestly, they’re probably worse than they’ve ever been.  But that doesn’t mean they want to tell you this.

So instead say:

“I won’t ask how you’re doing because this must be extremely difficult for you. I can’t imagine. Would you like to talk?”

Please do not say: God must’ve needed him in heaven more than we needed him here. Or worse, God must’ve needed another angel.

The truth is that God’s reasons for calling his children home have nothing to do with His needs.  Ever.  He’s all sufficient, self-sustaining, and lacking in nothing.  It’s an unnecessary notion to place into anyone’s head, that God needs their loved one.

As far as what to say instead? There is nothing to say similar to these statements that will be of any value.  Please, just avoid these statements all together.

Please do not say: God never gives us more than we can handle; so you’ve got this!

On the contrary. Yes, He does give us more than we can handle. The Bible tells us that His strength is only revealed and made perfect in our weakness. If we could carry everything ourselves, we wouldn’t need Him.

It would be best to remind the troubled heart of this by saying:

“I pray that you find comfort knowing that Jesus is strong enough to carry your pain. He has promised that He would.  You are not alone, my friend. He is with you. And only He is strong enough to get you through this.”

Please do not say: Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.

This sounds noble on the surface.  You may be willing to do anything for this person.  But more often than not, the one who is hurting will not ask for help.  Or, at that moment, they do not even really know what they need.

It is best to be specific with your offer to help. Be direct.  Say:

“I will call you next week and see what day is best to bring a meal to you.” Or, “I’m free to take your kids to school for you this week.” Or, “I’m available to help you on Thursday this week. How about I come and clean your kitchen and bathroom for you?”  

Bottom line, specificity is important. And don’t ask once and leave it at that.  Needs change daily, even hourly, when you’re drowning in despair.

Please do not say:  “___________” (crickets chirping)

Saying nothing is the worst.  Truly, it’s the worst. It hurts deeply when you know people are aware of your situation and fail to acknowledge your loss and pain. It would be much better to send a card simply saying:

“I wish I had the right words to say, but I know there aren’t any that will take the pain from you.  I can only tell you how very sorry I am for your loss, my friend. Please know that I am praying for you.”

While it is important to understand the weight in dealing with the hurting, it really isn’t difficult to share God’s love through your words. Simply make a point to quiet your busyness, pray for the person, and listen for His guidance as He brings a scripture to your mind, or even a memory to share.

I must admit, that for me, the greatest joy and healing I found, in what others shared with me during the early stages of our loss, was when they recounted a memory of my dad.  Either something they did together or what he did for them or how he made them feel.  It was as if, only for a moment, they had brought him back to life again and back to me. There is nothing as beautiful as hearing someone say your loved one’s name or share that he isn’t forgotten and that they still remember that time when…

Oh, how I miss that man. (tears)

So, allow God to use you to bring hope.  Your messages do not need to be lengthy to be effective. They need only be sincere and from a heart of compassion and humility.

May we approach the sacred soil of grief aware that we are stepping on hallowed ground. The place where God is at work, bringing healing.  May we allow Jesus to cover our words with His grace so that others will feel the warmth of His comfort just as Paul’s cloak brought comfort to him.

In our next time together, I’ll share more messages of grace that you can use. My hope is that we’ll never use the excuse of not knowing what to say, to stop us from being a blessing to someone in need.  People need you to be a vessel of God’s hope and healing.  May we be just that.

See you next time!

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