THE ART OF BEING WITH
Pastor of Charlotte S.D.A. Church
and Marshall S.D.A. Church in
Michigan, North American Division
Theme: Though we may experience grief for a reason in our lives, Jesus heals our brokenness so that we can be instruments of healing to others
Theme Text: 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Presentation Notes: Throughout the following outline numbers in parentheses (1), (2), (3) will indicate illustrations found in the section called Sermon Illumination . You may want to use a personal illustration instead.
Please experience with me the rhythmic cadences of the hymn of consolation found in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. The words of this hymn form the foundation of the art of being with those who hurt. (Read the passage from one or more versions)
The Church Is the Fellowship of the Broken
To walk with Jesus necessitates walking through suffering. If you follow the Man on the middle cross, you can’t avoid the cross. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it the “cost of discipleship.” In love’s service, only wounded soldiers will do. We have all been wounded and broken.
- We have felt hot tears wash our cheeks as we have watched a loved one die.
- Cold fear has paralyzed as a spouse has walked away from us.
- We have been dazed in the wake of a broken relationship.
- We have walked to the unemployment office after losing a good job.
- We have watched a son pack his things and move out to avoid religion.
The Church Is Also the Fellowship of the Comforted
“Comfort” appears 10 times in these 5 verses.
Comfort means more than consolation. It means:
- To be strengthened
- To be sustained
- To have the underpinning and inner reinforcement of the Spirit
- To come alongside a person
- To be healed of brokenness
All of us identify with the fellowship of the broken, but some may doubt the reality of the fellowship of the comforted because the fresh lacerations of loss cut into the soul until they cry out, “God, why have you forsaken me?”
I know about your pain. (1) Although I once feared I would never heal, I now know about the restoration of joy.
Brokenness and pain are softened by Jesus. In this place Jesus wants to begin and continue to heal your brokenness.
Lift your eyes to Him right now.
Invite Him into your brokenness.
Ask for His peace. It will be yours.
The Comfort God Gives to the Sufferer Overflows to Others
Paul isn’t explaining the meaning of suffering. He simply states that the believer shares in Jesus’ suffering. He is focusing on comfort. Comfort is certain to come when we ask for it.
God Is the Source of Comfort
He gives comfort to us. He uses us as vessels through which He flows sustaining strength to others.
Jesus is the modeler of therapeutic personhood. He set the pattern. The method and power to heal the broken come from Him.
The Holy Spirit comes alongside the broken and the helper.
How Did Jesus Comfort?
Jesus could not immediately wipe away the sorrow and pain of the fallen world. Instead He entered our brokenness and helplessness. He went where the pain is, not to eradicate it, but to be with us in our pain.
God embraced fallen men, women, and children. Tears of divinity mingled with tears of humanity. Pain and sorrow were day to day realities for Jesus.
Jesus cared first, then He cured.
- He did this by His willing presence.
- He did this by His healing and thoughtful words.
- He did this by His powerful silence.
- He embraced sick people with His eyes.
He was truly “with” them. People were drawn to Him because He was truly with them in every sense. He walked their beaches, socialized with the outcasts, lingered in the loitering places of the hopelessly ill, sat in the living rooms of the freshly bereaved, and cradled sick infants in His arms.
He spent time in the presence of the Father. Jesus’ ability to be with the broken people was made possible by spending time in the presence of the Father. There in the quiet place His heart became big enough to take in the multitudes. As long as the Father was first in Jesus’ priorities, there was plenty of room for one more grieving person.
He cared before He cured. Jesus deliberately entered their pain before He healed. He combined caring and curing. To cure without first caring would have been dehumanizing for those who came to Him.
As we examine Jesus’ method of being with people, we are forced to examine the busy church and ask a few questions. We are erecting buildings and fine tuning administrative machinery. Much energy is spent inventing new methods to finish the work. Is the church spending enough energy comforting those who hurt?
Henri J. M. Nouwen asked good questions:
You might remember moments in which you were called to be with a friend who had lost a wife or husband, child or parent. What can you say, do, or propose at such a moment? There is a strong inclination to say: “Don’t cry; the one you loved is in the hands of God.” “Don’t be sad because there are so many good things left worth living for.” But are we ready to really experience our powerlessness in the face of death and say: “I do not understand. I do not know what to do but I am here with you.” Are we willing to not run away from the pain, to not get busy when there is nothing to do and instead stand rather in the face of death together with those who grieve? (Nouwen, 1974, pp. 34, 35)
It is much easier to sit at a computer laying plans for the church, but it is very difficult to walk with and sit with a friend in fresh grief. It would have been more convenient for Jesus to stay in heaven, but He put himself out for us.
Guidelines for Being With
As I visit with church groups I am impressed that Christian people really desire to be with those who grieve, but they really feel awkward and incompetent. Perhaps a few guidelines for ministering to the grieving will ease the fears of doing the wrong things.
1. Grief is not a sign of weak faith. Running away from grief can actually prolong the pain. Allow people to grieve because it is a healthy attempt to regain equilibrium after a devastating blow.
2. Grief is normal. It is a gradual movement from life out of focus to refocus. It takes time. C.S. Lewis likened it to the warming of a room or the coming of daylight.
3. Anticipate the needs of the grieving family. Never say, “Call me if I can do anything to help you.” Initiate the acts of helping.
4. Talk about the person who is missing. Grieving families need to know that the life of their loved one was of value and that he or she still impacts on the lives of others. Reviewing the relationship is a vital part of the grief. Your talking about the one who died helps the family to do that reviewing. (2)
5. The greatest tool you have is a listening ear. Listening love, quietly and patiently hearing a person’s pain is just as effective as the use of Scripture and prayer. (3)
6. Temporary loss of faith is very common when death occurs. Don’t be shocked when your Christian friend expresses doubts about God’s existence or lacks interest in the details of life. When death strikes a family, the members of the family are looking at God through the shadows of their own sorrow. Their view of God is distorted. They may doubt that God loves them. They may not see that He has a purpose for their life. This is temporary. Your attitudes and actions of acceptance can renew the grieving person’s conviction that God is present. If you are present with them, comfortable with their agony and not eager to make them better so you can be comfortable, and if you listen nonjudgmentally, their faith will be restored. Your steadying love will make you a living reminder of Jesus.
7. Remember that there are three types of ministry to the grieving. Ministry of word is important. You should ask God to give you words to speak and the wisdom to know when to be silent. If God promised to give you words to speak when you are called before earthly kings, He will surely give you the right words to speak when you sit with the children of the King of kings. Ministry of presence is more than being physically present with a grieving person. It is being there because you want to be there. Grieving people are very perceptive. They can sense your reticence. Ministry of absence happens when you have truly been present with a person. There is a time to leave. If you have been present with a person in every sense of the word, the Holy Spirit will take what you have left behind-your words, your silence, your tears, your touch-and turn them into a ministry you could never have done by staying longer.
I once heard it said that before you go to the side of a grieving person, the Holy Spirit is there. When you arrive the Holy Spirit comes alongside you and the grieving person. When you leave, the Holy Spirit remains to magnify your ministry.
Those who can sit in silence with their fellowman not knowing what to say, but knowing that they should be there, can bring new life to a dying heart. Those who are not afraid to hold a hand in gratitude, to shed tears in grief, and to let a sigh of distress arise straight from the heart, can break through paralyzing boundaries and witness the birth of a new fellowship-the fellowship of the broken. (Nouwen, 1974, pp. 40, 41)
This is the ministry of comfort that flows into our lives from Jesus. When it flows into us and then overflows to others who are broken, we have sung the hymn of consolation.
One (1): Shortly after our son died I went to church. All the children were invited to come up on the platform and sing “Jesus Loves Me” for the congregation. Every little boy who sang that song reminded me of my son. This was Jeff’s favorite song. He spent a night in a hospital prior to his tonsillectomy. He kept all the children awake because he sang “Jesus Loves Me” at the top of his voice. As I watched those little boys singing in church I felt like a huge knife was cutting out my heart.
A year after Jeff died I attended a summer camp. During the campfire, pictures of children romping through a daisy-filled meadow with Jesus were projected on a large screen. As picture after picture appeared, a soprano soloist sang “Welcome Home Children.” The pain inside of me was so excruciating that I felt nauseous. I looked away to keep from becoming sick. I never dreamed that I would experience such pain.
Two (2): After our son died I wanted to talk about him with everyone I met. The lady at the grocery checkout, the owner of the lumber yard, and the mechanic at my favorite garage were people I longed to talk with, but I knew I could not impose on them. Finally I found someone who invited me to tell my story. Kim Johnson drove me to the Boston airport just a few months after Jeff died. He pulled the car onto the Massachusetts Turnpike, put his little Plymouth into cruise, and said, “Larry, I was sad that I could not be with you when Jeff died. Now I want to listen and have you tell me what it was like for you.”
For the next 40 miles I talked and Kim wept. His compassionate listening was a healing balm to my soul. His willingness to mention my son’s name proved to me that Jeff had made a lasting impression on Kim.
Three (3): I entered the room of a cancer patient at the request of a nurse. I said, “Lida, the nurses tell me that you and I would get along real well.”
“Well, sir, I think I’d get along right well with a preacher. You see, I’m a preacher of sorts. Not like you. I preach about a little white church at the end of a gravel road. My husband was a wholesale grocer. I used to go with him now and again. One day we was riding down this gravel road and there I saw a little white church with bluebonnets covering a little graveyard behind it. And I told Harold that’s where I wanted to be buried. A few days later he came home and told me he bought two lots in that graveyard. And now Harold’s sleeping under them bluebonnets. It won’t be long until I’m sleeping there with him.”
I took advantage of her pause. “Lida, I love romance stories. I’d like to hear how you met Harold, how you fell in love, and what it was like to be married to a good man.” Then I leaned back in my chair and listened to her story for nearly an hour.
When she finished, she slowly rose from her chair. I rose from mine. She held out her 80-year-old arms. We embraced. Then she stepped back slightly, held my arms, looked me in the eyes and said, “Preacher, what you and I done here today was a prayer.”
I knew that my listening love was just as powerful as any Scripture reading or formal prayer could have been.
Becker, Arthur H. (1985). The Compassionate Visitor: Resources for Ministering to People Who Are Ill . Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House.
Beker, J. Christiaan (1987). Suffering and Hope . Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Doka, Kenneth J., Editor. (1995). Children Mourning: Mourning Children . Washington, D.C.: Hospice Foundation of America.
Nouwen, Henri J. M. (1974). Out of Solitude . Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press.
Ramsay, Paul and May, William F. (1982). Suffering: a Test of Theological Method . Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.
Richards, M. Gregory. (1994). When Someone You Know Is Hurting: What You Can Do To Help . Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Reprinted from Karen & Ron Flowers, Family Seasons. Silver Spring, MD: Department of Family Ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1996.