“Doesn’t she look great?”
Every now and then I hear something like this at a funeral and I can’t help but think to myself, “Umm…not really, she’s dead.” And then immediately I scold myself for being so mean in my head and remind myself that the person was well-meaning.
Whenever somebody I care about is in a season of suffering, I find myself worried about what I am going to say. I find myself second-guessing every statement in order to avoid saying something stupid in this moment of pain. When I go into these situations, there are a couple of things that I need to constantly remind myself of, so I don’t overthink how I care for my friends and family in these moments.
Your presence matters.
You’re not going to say something stupid. And if you do, they most likely won’t remember it. Because your presence is going to say far more. This doesn’t mean that words don’t matter in these moments, but don’t underestimate the significance of simply being present and sitting with the people who are suffering.
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. - John 11:33-35
Listen, cry, talk about anything, look at pictures, pray.
All of these things matter.
Stick to what you know, not what you don’t.
In the need to say something in these difficult moments, the place we often find ourselves getting into trouble is when we start to find things to say that we perceive as comforting that we really don’t have answers to.
When you go to a funeral and somebody is comforting another because their loved is "getting their wings"; this is somebody who is trying to be comforting but is speaking about things they really don’t know about.
When I am in these moments, the thing I must always remind myself is that when I need words of comfort, the best place I can run to is the place that I know speaks truth to the hurting. Instead of coming up with comforting statements in my own mind, I can find things that have already been said in the scriptures.
For example, a book like the Psalms can speak to the greatest moments of joy and the most agonizing moments of suffering.
"Psalms give voice to the praise of God in the depths of affliction and in the heights of human joy. We have confidence in praying the psalms for in the Psalter we are praying God’s own words.” - Lutheran Service Book: Pastoral Care Companion
When we use the words of God, we know they are true. Rely on what you know is true. Rely on the prayers, songs, and words of the Scriptures to provide comfort when you don’t have the words to say.