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Compassion in the valley of death’s shadow

By Tammy Darling

Lack of compassion is an age-old problem. “I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none” (Psalm 69:20, NIV). Even today the ability to compassionately offer comfort seems to be a rare gift.

The problem stems from fear: fear we will be rebuffed, fear we will say or do the wrong thing, fear of standing out, fear of making an already difficult situation worse. But the fact remains, God commands us to comfort others. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” (Isaiah 40:1).

Death affects all of us, and presents a need for compassion like no other. Most of us have heard trite, feeble attempts at comfort: “Don’t cry. He’s in a better place now.” “Her suffering is over.” That may be true, but people still need to grieve and heal, and that takes time and tears.

Not knowing what to do or say to comfort others during their loss can cause us to do and say nothing. Sometimes we have to learn to comfort with compassion. Here are some do’s and don’ts to consider:

• Do ask the Holy Spirit for guidance when comforting others so you’ll truly be comforting with the compassion of Christ.

• Don’t rush the grieving process. Healing takes time. Everyone grieves differently, and the time frame for healing will vary.

• Do listen. Listen with an open heart and mind — remember the person is hurting. Avoid correcting harsh things the hurting person might say. Hurt comes across in different ways, and it’s never pleasant.

• Don’t tell someone who has lost a loved one that God needed that person in heaven. In a time of intense pain and grief, God should be seen as a source of comfort, not the source of the tragedy.

• Do be there, emotionally and practically. Shared tears will mean more than any words. Check in often and let the grieving person know you’re available to offer whatever help is needed. When someone is in pain or grieving, friends often disappear because they’re uncomfortable, not knowing what to say or do. Just show up, and trust the Lord to take it from there.

• Don’t try to create comfort through negative comparison. A grieving person does not want or need to hear how someone else’s situation is worse. This will not lessen the hurt in any way. Focus concern and sympathy on that person’s situation.

• Don’t say anything if you don’t know what to say. Sometimes a hug is all that is needed anyway.

• Don’t cast off the grief reaction by saying, “Pray about it.” Prayer is certainly beneficial, but it doesn’t immediately resolve all pain and grief. A hurting person doesn’t need a sermon as much as a friend.

• Don’t try to force cheer into the situation. While there’s nothing wrong with laughter, we’re also to mourn with those who mourn.

• Do something specific. Hurting people don’t want to impose by asking for anything. Think about what you might want or need in a similar situation — a home-cooked meal, a listening ear, a hug — and then do it.

• Do continue to include the grieving person. Offer as you always have, and let that person make the choice. Don’t push by saying, “You need to get out of the house” or “It will do you good.”

It’s not enough to simply feel compassion towards another person; true compassion requires action. An act of compassion can be as silent as a hug, but the act itself will wonderfully communicate God’s love.

TAMMY DARLING lives in Three Springs, Pa.

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