"If there's anything I can do … " I heard these words repeatedly years ago on that rainy day when we buried our 29-day-old baby boy, Christopher. Most people who said them acted so awkwardly, I felt as though I had to cheer them up.
But others were more at ease. One friend, Anne, quietly shared how she was encouraged by our reliance on God during Christopher's battle with a serious congenital heart defect. Another friend, Pam, e-mailed me, "I planted some violas for Christopher today, just outside my kitchen window." While neither gesture was extravagant or profound, both shone some light on a very dark day.
Why do some people seem to know what to say to someone in pain, while the rest of us flounder? The reality is, being close to someone who's heartbroken is difficult. We don't want to compound her pain by saying the wrong thing, yet we earnestly desire to help lessen her suffering, just like Jesus, who came to "comfort all who mourn" (Isaiah 61:2). When our heart breaks for someone else, we reflect God's sadness. How can we also reflect God's comfort? First we need to understand what comforting does—and doesn't—involve.
Comforting Isn't Explaining God's Will
When Judy's eight-year-old son, Kyle, was hospitalized with a life-threatening infection, a close relative wrote her to say God was punishing her for not attending church. Needless to say, the letter did little to encourage Judy.1