In what may be his most practical stretches of writing, Paul admonished the Roman church to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” in Romans 12:15.1
Modern Christians, as a whole, do a pretty good job with the first part of this verse. In just the past year I’ve celebrated birthdays, marriages, weddings, births, anniversaries, job promotions, home purchases, sports victories, and a whole host of other events with my Christian sisters and brothers. It’s pretty easy to rejoice with those who are happy, and the Church generally does a good job with celebrating the joys of life.
But what about the second part of Paul’s exhortation, to “mourn with those who mourn?”
This past year, I’ve also had had friends and family who’ve experienced tremendous losses: the death of a close friend, cancer diagnosis, moving away from home, battles with depression, miscarriage, a long-term bout with chronic illness, death of a parent, divorce, loss of a job, crippling anxiety, and death of a close friend. All of these losses have led to mourning. Yet I—and the Church—have done a poor job of mourning alongside those who are mourning such losses.
Why Is Mourning with Those Who Mourn So Hard?
It’s fun to go to a wedding; it’s more sobering to attend a funeral. This is a reality reflected in the struggles of American Christians to mourn with one another.2 There are several reasons why we find it difficult to mourn with others.
Pride and privacy are two major culprits. Too often, we try to look like we’re strong when we’re really weak—and we want to allow other people to keep up that facade as well. Sometimes we mask our pride with a concern for privacy. “I wouldn’t want someone else to pry into my emotions if I’d just had a friend pass away,” we tell ourselves—apparently not realizing that asking someone how they’re doing isn’t really prying so much as it’s having a normal conversation.
The American obsession with busyness also makes mourning difficult. Our plates are so constantly full that we forget what’s on them, much less the important things like caring for others that should be on them.
There’s also the reality that, for many people, we simply don’t know what to say when someone is mourning. “I’m sorry” doesn’t sound like enough (even though most of the time it is). Many of us have had someone use a cliché to try and make us feel better when we were down. The cliché didn’t help, so want to stay away from those too.
In short, we’re unprepared to mourn with those who are mourning. And because of that unpreparedness and the uncomfortability of loss, we default to what’s easy: we avoid mourning with others altogether.
It seems we’ve gotten bad at mourning with those who mourn. But all is not lost—we can learn to do better. Below are some suggestions for how to better mourn with those who mourn.
- Pray. Begin by asking the Holy Spirit to move you to mourn and offer comfort in appropriate ways. “Lord, help me truly mourn with those who mourn” is a good place to start.
- Equip Yourself. There are some great resources to help equip you to relate well to those who are mourning. Christian Caregiving—a Way of Life is one I’d recommend.
- Seek to Understand. Grief is complex—it involves lots of emotions, varies from person to person in intensity, and takes a long time. Seek to understand so that you can care for and mourn with people in the ways that they need.
- Be There. When people are mourning, the presence of others can be an amazing source of comfort. Many times, there’s no need to say a lot. Just be present in their mourning.
- Stay away from Clichés. Far too often the words we say to those who are mourning are empty clichés that hurt rather than help. Don’t say things like “It’s God’s will” or “they’re in a better place” to those who are mourning.3
- Offer Practical Help. Losses bring lifestyle adjustments that can be particularly hard. The mom of three who’s lost her husband isn’t just working through grief, but also adjusting to a whole new way of living. When you offer to help, be specific and concrete, offering practical help that people can use in their situation.
- Follow Up. Mourning lasts much longer than most people realize. It’s completely normal, for example, to grieve the death of a loved one for two or three years before finding a new normal. Foster the habit of checking in with those who are mourning.4 Ask people—seriously—how they’re doing and listen attentively when they share their feelings.
Mourning with those who mourn may not be easy or comfortable for us. But it’s an act of love and care that Christians are called to practice. May we all learn to grow in this area of our lives, hurting along with those who hurt as the body of Christ.
1 Holy Bible, New International Version 2011.
2 For more on this, see Lauren Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2003), 27-3
3 For more on what you should and shouldn’t say to those who are hurting, see Kenneth Haugk’s Don’t Sing Songs to a Heavy Heart: How to Relate to Those Who Are Suffering (St. Louis: Stephen Ministries, 2018), especially the chapters “Words that Hurt, Not Heal” and “Pink Thinking.”
4 One practice that Hayley and I have committed ourselves to is sending the four Journeying through Grief books to those we know who are grieving.
This article originally appeared at Conciliar Post.