Pastor, the reality is that some of the people you lead will never deal directly with their grief. They’ll stuff it, push it down, and pretend it’s not there. And they’ll miss out on God’s best for their lives because they can’t move past the pain.
Many people believe the myth that God wants us to walk around with a smile all the time—and ignore the pain so no one knows when we’re hurting. But the Bible doesn’t say that anywhere!
In fact, Jesus taught the opposite. In Matthew 5:4, he says, “God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (NLT).
Because grief is an appropriate response to pain, we need to help our congregations discover how to grieve in healthy ways.
This is particularly important right now. Since the beginning of this pandemic, you’ve likely had people in your congregation who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. But they’ve also lost jobs, important relationships, and meaningful routines. It’s important for them to grieve all these losses.
Yet we need to help our congregations grieve differently than the world does, encouraging them to not repress or stuff their feelings—but to release their pain to God instead.
That’s why a big part of shepherding your congregation through grief is helping them live out Psalm 62:8: “Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge” (NLT). When we release our grief to God, he can heal us.
So, how do we help people release their grief?
First, do not minimize their pain.
You can do this, in part, by eliminating the words “at least” from your vocabulary when talking to someone in pain. I’m sure you’ve heard those words used before in this context: Someone loses a child, and a friend tells them, “Well, at least you’re young enough to have more.” Someone loses a job and they’re told, “At least you have the skills to get another one.”
It never helps to minimize the pain of someone else—even if we’re pointing out something good in place of the loss. The typical response when we see someone in pain is to try to fix the problem immediately. But that’s counterproductive. You can’t fix the griever’s pain. God can, though. When God heals their pain in his time and in his way, he heals it completely.
Second, don’t rush them through the grieving process.
Pain and grief take time. You’ll never be able to figure out an appropriate timeline for someone else’s grief. It’s not our job to do this either. We simply need to support people through however long they need to grieve.
Don’t push anyone to “get over it.” You don’t get over grief. You get through it. Let’s walk beside people as they grieve and not push them through it.
Third, help them find a place where they can share their grief.
Learning to release your grief isn’t a one-time decision. We need people in our lives who constantly encourage us during these times. We don’t need to share our feelings with everyone, but we need to share them with someone. Paul does this in 2 Corinthians 1:8, “My friends, I want you to know what a hard time we had in Asia. Our sufferings were so horrible and so unbearable that death seemed certain” (CEV). If Paul needed other people to walk with him through painful times, so do we.
God created us to need other people, and that’s particularly evident as we grieve. Encouraging them to get involved in a small group or support group is vitally important for helping them process their pain and understand what God is doing in their lives.
Pastor, if we don’t help people grieve in healthy ways, they will let their feelings out in unhealthy ways. Grief is an important part of growth. We don’t grow without change. We don’t change without loss. There is no loss without pain—and there is no pain without grief.
As we enter the holiday season, your people might re-experience grief from the year’s many losses. Take the opportunity to help them release their grief to God—so they can heal and grow.