My family is not unfamiliar with grief and sorrow and suffering. We have experienced it first hand. We know what it is to be on the receiving end of condolences and do-gooders.
The older I get, the more I realize that grief is but a breath away. Sorrow and suffering linger close.
My children experienced walking through the death of their grandfather in December. His health had declined over the course of a couple of years and they watched him struggle.
Just last week, a dear friend of ours passed away after a seven year battle with cancer. We have really only known him for the last four years. Our families share the bond of cancer. We speak the same language. Our friend and my daughter had a special bond as cancer warriors who found their strength in Jesus. They prayed together and laughed together. They shared experiences. I am so thankful she had time with him. He understood her struggles better than most. I grieve for my sweet girl as she grieves the loss of her friend.
I grieve for the loss of whatever innocence my children had left concerning the destructive power of cancer. Upon hearing the news of our friend’s passing, my older daugher asked me the chances of her sister’s cancer coming back. Because now it is real that cancer destroys and kills. Now it is real that chemo doesn’t always work.
I grieve for my friend who lost her husband… for her kids who lost their father. I desperately hope for the day when the sad things come untrue. When sickness and suffering are no longer… when tears are wiped… when pain is gone. Like a mother in labor, feeling the pains that must come to push new life into this world… I feel pain… pushing, squeezing… driving me forward. I grieve… with a believing hope that this world is not the end.
I work with teenagers. I was on the phone with one of the girls in my youth a couple of days after receiving the news of our friend’s death. She is friends with the daughter. We talked about how death doesn’t make sense… and about how much this hurts. She desperately wanted to do something to make it better.
Talking with her reminded me of a time in high school when a friend of mine lost a friend to a car accident. I was young and immature and did not know how to be a friend to someone grieving. I avoided my friend. He needed someone to sit with him and listen, but I ran away. I regret my choices and wish I had known how to be a friend to him in that time.
In talking with my children and my youth gal about this death and sadness, I realized a few things that may be helpful if you are walking with a teen through sorrow.
- Grief does not come with instructions. There is not a right way to do it.
- As Christians, we grieve with hope. Both are true… the grief and the hope. One does not out weigh or overshadow the other. Scripture says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4). It also says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). We can grieve and mourn… and we can have hope that there is more happening than what we see.
- Hold space. If you are the one grieving, allow space to grieve. You are not obligated to do or give anything. If you are walking along a friend who has experienced loss or is suffering, allow space. Don’t try to make it better. Wait for them to express a need. Let your friend know you love them and don’t expect a response right away. Do not look to your grieving friend to make you feel better for what they are going through.
- Trust that the Lord is at work. Romans 5:3-5 says, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
While we desperately want to make things better and take pain away from those we love, we must trust that God, in his sovereignty, is at work. Suffering produces endurace. Endurance produces character. Character produces hope. Hope does not put us to shame. There is a direct correlation between grief and hope. Those who are grieving and those walking alongside must be willing to lean into the grief to give space for the hope.