Out of the blue, you receive a message that someone you loved has passed away. Perhaps it is a sibling, a longtime friend, or close co-worker, he/she is close to you but not one of your immediate family. Whatever the nature of your relationship, the timing of their death is so unexpected that you can hardly believe what you are hearing. And yet you know intellectually that it is true. Your emotions do not catch up to the reality quick enough so your response is distorted by a numbness of disbelief. You are left hanging, not knowing what to do or how to respond. Your relationship with the immediate family is close so you feel this pull to be with them but are unsure of how to act, what to say or who to speak with during this time.
The climate of our present culture is one that has lost touch with the art of maintaining intimate relationships. Media influences such as Facebook, texting, and video gaming all of which do more to disconnect relationships rather connect serve instead to keep intimate relationships at arm’s length. While on the surface it may seem as though we are connecting to old friends or distant relatives by befriending or sending a message, the lack of two-way face-to-face conversation keeps the relationship at this distance. During the times of a crisis such as the loss of a loved one, the distance then becomes a temptation not to act and to remain safely away. But this is not an example of loving your neighbor. So what is?
Time. As hard as it is, one of the most loving acts of kindness is giving your time. Just spending time with the immediate family can be a source of great comfort in a time of great loss. One of the many temptations during this time however is to remain detached and self-protective as you embrace your own loss, but that is a selfish act. Selflessness is the willingness to put aside your own emotions and become involved in caring for those whose loss is even greater. Time demands that you are physically present offering to remain as long as needed to care for the suffering of another.
Listen. During your time with the immediate family, do not enforce your own agenda or your own views of the loved one who has passed. Rather, listen to the family speak allowing them the freedom to become angry, bitter, sad, and emotional. Don’t argue or dispute what they are saying, just allow them to ramble. The explosion of thoughts which plague your mind during this time are even more intense for the immediate family so let them just speak. Some feel the need to narrate the story of their lives, some feel the need to just sit in complete quiet, some feel the need to be around people, and some feel the need to give instructions. Whatever their need, be there to listen without judgment or correction.
Embrace. There is no way around this. Once you physically make yourself available and spend some time listening to a person grieve, you will become emotionally and intimately involved in the grieving process. This act defies the nature of our culture which preaches that it is “all about me” and invites you to embrace an intimate moment which is about the one who has passed away and the ones who are left behind. While it is scary to allow yourself to be so involved, it is an act of kindness that demonstrates fully the love of Christ.
To the outside world, such behavior of giving your time, listening unconditionally and embracing grief sounds draining and normally it is if you are doing such acts on your own strength. But if you rely on the strength of Christ, there is far more than you need. John 7:38, “Anyone who believes in me [Jesus] may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” These rivers of living water are nourishment and refreshment in times of great challenge and great need which are available to all who believe in Jesus. When you give of yourself during a time of loss, you are really giving the love of Christ of which there is an endless supply and far more than you need. This is one of the many demonstrations of loving your neighbor which becomes a light to all who see.
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