How Do You Respond When Others Are Grieving?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Oh, no! She sits alone, the city that was once full of people. Once great among nations, she has become like a widow. Once a queen over provinces, she has become a slave. She weeps bitterly in the night, her tears on her cheek. None of her lovers comfort her. All her friends lied to her; they have become her enemies. (CEB)

Lamentations 1:1

How do you respond when you see someone grieving?

I respond in various and often contradictory ways. On the one hand, when someone is weeping, part of me wants to turn away, to allow that mourner to grieve in private. On the other hand, I can find myself strangely curious. For example, when the evening news televises an interview with a mother of a young man who was recently killed through gang violence, I want to denounce the media for intruding into the private life of a devastated family. Yet, at the same time, I watch with peculiar curiosity. It’s not that I want to see people in pain. Rather, I want to connect with them, to feel along with them. And I also want to wonder how I’d feel in a similar situation.

The biblical book of Lamentations invites us to eavesdrop on the grief of others. This book is filled with a variety of laments. Many express the sorrow of a nation and a city. They are the corporate response of God’s people to the conquering of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 587 BC. Lamentations 3 features the sorrow of an unknown individual, as this person takes personally what happened to the nation. (Authorship of Lamentations has sometimes been attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, though the book is anonymous, with little indication of the actual author.)

The fact that Lamentations appears in the canon of holy Scripture means that God wants us to take it seriously. This is not a time to turn our heads away from the mourners in our workplace and community. Rather, we are to pay close attention to their words and feelings. We are to enter into their distress and join them in wrestling with the theological implications of suffering. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we’re to join them in wrestling with the God who allows and, according to Lamentations, who sometimes causes suffering.

Lamentations is not what you’d call a book of comfort. It doesn’t offer “chicken soup for the soul.” If anything, it stirs up difficult feelings and challenging thoughts. Yet, these are feelings and thoughts God wants us to embrace. Moreover, as we’ll see down the road a piece, Lamentations contains within it one of the most beloved and encouraging passages of all of Scripture. Truly, the surprises of this book, both sad and happy, are many.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you respond when you see people grieving in your workplace or community? Are you inclined to comfort them? To leave them alone? To observe from a distance? To walk away? Why do you respond as you do? What might God want to teach you as you pay attention to Lamentations?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, as I read, reflect upon, and pray through the book of Lamentations, may I be attentive to the thoughts and feelings of those whose grief is expressed in these pages. But, most of all, may I be attentive to you. May I learn what you want to teach me. May I hear what you want to say to me. May my heart be shaped by your Spirit, so that it might be more like your own heart. Amen.