What Do I Say? Talking To Those Grieving

Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:18, NASB1995).

When I find myself in a situation needing to comfort a person who has suffered a loss, I often don’t know what to say.

After 50 years as a pastor, if I don’t know what to say, you shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t know what to say.

I’ve heard preachers say in memorial messages, “I have no answers.” I recently heard a pastor say, “There is nothing that can be said.”

Yet, in 1 Thessalonians 4:18, Paul states, “Comfort one another with these words.”

Did Paul have a formula to be said in grief when the rest of us are at a loss? What words did Paul have? What are we to say in comforting one another?

The Greek word for “comfort” is “paraclete” and it means “called alongside.” Jesus sends the Holy Spirit “the Comforter” or “called alongside” to help us. The King James Version translates John 14:26 as…

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things.  

The implication of the word “paraclete” is that our presence is needed when others grieve.

I have been called into difficult situations many times, often with people I don’t know, and though I stand there without anything to say, I hear the comment, “Thanks for being here; you are a big help.”

Helping and comforting require presence. Presence is “called alongside.” It’s the best thing that we can do.

However… however… despite the need to be quiet, I’m a preacher and I make my living by talking. So, I have broken this rule of silence.

Being too quick with statements like  “God works all things to the good” or “God has eternal purposes in everything” didn’t bring comfort.

But I have learned two things.

First, I ask the Lord to give me a memory or something positive to say. Once I said, “_____ always complimented my sermons.” Another time, “He always told me a joke.”

Both statements were in the moment and comforting.

Second, I ask if I can pray. Perhaps it’s an expected thing since I am a pastor. But when eternity touches time there is a sobriety of the moment in which I’ve observed agnostics bow their heads. 

And the Spirit often prays through me with words that I couldn’t formulate myself – the presence of God comes through my prayer.

In 1 Thessalonians 4, when Paul exhorts us to comfort one another, the verse is in a paragraph of verses that begins with…

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death so that you do not grieve as those who have no hope (v. 13, OGV).

There is an “in the moment of grief” when we have little to say. But as time passes, God’s eternal perspective brings comfort. Paul writes so that we will know the future with those who have passed.

I recently talked to a brother who had just experienced two separate losses of friends. He said to me, “I’m upset; I don’t understand. But If I give up faith in God, then I will never find peace or understanding.”

I looked at him and said simply, “Brother, you have found hope!”