There was a strange rule in my graduate counseling program: don’t pass the tissues.
It’s not surprising, but a lot of crying happens in counseling programs. I remember the first time one of my professors gestured to a fresh box of Kleenex in the center of the room and instructed us not to touch it—unless we were the one crying. My fellow students and I shifted in our seats, and I felt my shoulders tense. This won’t be a problem at all, I assured myself. Simple. Just don’t touch the box. But as soon as one of my classmates began courageously and tearfully describing a painful season, the tension grew thick. What would we do?
Through that box of tissues, my professor was teaching us to sit with one another in our pain—and not try to fix it. We were learning how our own discomfort could motivate us to rush another person through grief. And although none of my classmates reached for the tissues, it was hard. But as the months went on, we began to welcome sorrow as holy ground, sitting patiently with one another’s tears.
As believers in Christ, we have no shortage of trouble on this side of heaven (John 16:33). In a posture of humility, we can ask the Lord to heal our longing to fix others’ pain, teach us to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15), and show us when and how to speak words of hope.
Addressing the Urge to Fix Versus Comfort
For many of us, lingering with a loved one in the depths of grief is difficult. We may be triggered by our own experiences of loss or believe we are responsible for rescuing others from pain. Perhaps we feel unsafe in the presence of strong emotion. And in our discomfort, we reach for a tissue—whether it be an actual tissue, a Bible verse, an “at least…” pseudo-encouragement, or any other attempt to rush our loved one to a place of being okay.
While we may not mean it this way, a grieving friend might internalize our attempt to fix as us implying, “That’s enough, now. Time to dry your tears.” Instead of communicating warmth and safety, we could be conveying the message that their pain isn’t welcome.
If we desire to grow in our ability to linger in sorrow without fixing things, our first step is to pray. We can ask the Lord, What makes it hard for me to tolerate pain? Where do I need to experience your healing before I can extend it to others? In moments when a friend’s grief feels uncomfortable or triggering, we can pray, Lord, help me stay present without fixing. As we gain awareness of our motivation to fix, and as we seek the Lord’s healing, we will grow in our ability to sit patiently with another’s pain.
Comfort by Weeping With Those Who Weep
When we share in the sorrow of our friends, we obey God’s commands to grieve in community (Rom. 12:15) and bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). We may have hopeful and encouraging words to offer, but we can follow the example of Christ and grieve with our loved ones before doing or saying anything. When his friend Lazarus died, Jesus joined Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha, in weeping at his tomb:
“When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’” (John 11:33–36).
Jesus is the One with the ultimate power to fix anything (instantly!). However, he chose to grieve with his friends first, even though he knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:11). Our tears for each other are a gift, a tangible way we can serve one another with the tenderness of Christ.
Comfort by Speaking Words of Hope
Of course, we can’t just sit quietly forever. As the body of Christ, we have the responsibility to “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thess. 5:11), for we know that “those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength” (Is. 40:31 NIV).
Still, we must proceed with gentleness and discernment when offering comfort. We may long for God to change a friend’s circumstances or bring physical healing. However, we don’t know God’s will for our friends. It can be harmful to offer earthly assurances. Instead, we can gently point to what we know for certain: God’s unchanging character and his promises for all believers.
Here are some eternal assurances we can share:
1. God sees us in our pain.
One of God’s names is El Roi, “the God who sees me” (Gen. 16:13 NIV). Just as he tenderly met Hagar in the midst of her despair, God sees us in our sorrow, too. We are never alone in our pain.
2. God is all-powerful.
“For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). We can remind our loved ones of God’s might to act on our behalf. With boldness, we can come alongside them in praying for a miracle.
3. God will bring joy and restoration.
As Revelation 21:4 declares, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Though we have sorrow now, we will have joy again in the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21:1).
The work of offering comfort is nuanced, and we won’t always get it right. But the good news is that we have a gentle Savior who shows us the way. As we ask him to help us learn to comfort one another well, he will be faithful to make us more and more like himself (2 Cor. 3:18).
Meet the Author
Leah Kristie serves as director of communication for ServingLeaders Ministries, a faith-based organization providing counseling and resources to ministry leaders locally and abroad. She is a writer with a passion for helping women cling to Christ in difficult seasons. Leah and her husband Ryan have two children (and another on the way!) and are part of 938 Church in West Chester, Pennsylvania. You can follow her on Instagram @leahkristie.