Talking to people is one of my absolute favorite things. I’m an extrovert who loves words—sometimes it can be hard to get me to stop talking. But I’ll be honest: the only time I’m at a loss for words is when someone is really hurting. Loving someone who is experiencing deep loss and grief is one of the most terrifying and immobilizing situations for most of us. We desperately want to offer comfort and support, but we have no idea what to say or how to help.
That’s why Nancy Guthrie’s What Grieving People Wish You Knew About What Really Helps (And What Really Hurts) is so incredibly important. From the very beginning, I couldn’t stop thinking, “There will come a day when I remember this and act differently because of it.” Even in very recent memory, there have been situations where I missed an opportunity to love someone well because I was too afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. Through numerous personal testimonies and tangible examples, Guthrie repeatedly offers this consistent plea: keep trying.Nancy Guthrie’s overwhelming message in What Grieving People Wish You Knew is to enter into the awkwardness and difficulty of loving grieving people.
Using personal testimonies for every “do” and “don’t,” Guthrie allows real people to explain the ways that certain words or actions only brought them more pain. She weaves the stories of people from various backgrounds into her own journey with grief, giving invaluable perspective from those who have received life-changing comfort from their loved ones and those who have been deeply hurt by the response of the people closest to them. The testimonies offer specific examples, but they also show unifying themes: the desire for continued presence in the life of the grieving person, the importance of acknowledging the loss, and the harm of flippant platitudes. Other specifics are more surprising, like the testimonies that stressed the importance of hearing someone say the name of the deceased, instead of awkwardly avoiding it. Some suggestions are simple but not necessarily obvious: Guthrie repeatedly shows how offering specific forms of help (assisting with the funeral, cleaning or cooking, financial help) is much more appreciated than a generic offer. Too often, grieving people don’t know how to ask for help or what to ask for.
Guthrie skillfully and sensitively reminds the reader that while we might claim to only seek the comfort and needs of the grieving person, our motivations are rarely that pure. The underlying sentiment is often “move on” and the real objective is to get over the awkwardness of the moment. What Grieving People Wish You Knew manages to weave conviction among reassuring acknowledgments of the difficulty of loving a grieving person. While the examples are abundant, the thrust of many chapters is that loving anyone well will be difficult, but a self-sacrificing approach is the most God-glorifying.While offering helpful insight and examples, Guthrie counsels that the greatest source of peace in the midst of unbearable heartbreak can only come from the Lord, not from us. We can’t provide the perfect balm for the hurting hearts around us, and there’s always a limit to how soothing our words or actions can be. Whether we are the ones grieving or the ones comforting the grieved, there is incredible peace and joy to be found in this truth: “We are being swept up into a much bigger salvation than just our individual lives.” Guthrie manages to highlight the incredible opportunity believers have to witness to the grieving, while acknowledging that truth must be spoken in love and in the appropriate timing.
What Grieving People Wish You Knew offers specific ways that people can help or hurt those that are grieving, but the overwhelming message is to enter into the awkwardness and difficulty of loving grieving people, even when we’re terrified. Guthrie explains:
Offering real comfort to those who are grieving is not about leaving them with a happy thought, but more about accepting where they are—whether that be happy or sad, confident or confused. We don’t have to fix everything or make sense of everything in the course of our brief conversation. Instead, we can be willing to enter into the unanswered questions and unresolved conclusions and uncomfortable realities.
That’s really the perfect picture of how believers can engage in a world full of heartbreak and loss: wading into the confusion and doubt, offering both clear conviction and the willingness to acknowledge that some of our answers might not always feel sufficient. We don’t have to fix everything, because our best news to share is that this world is not our home.
Image via Crossway
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