Grief is something that most of us experience intensely at least once in our lifetimes. For some of us, grief washes over our lives repeatedly. In some ways, grief is one of the most personal experiences we can go through. Each loss settles into our souls differently, and we respond to our pain uniquely. And yet grief is so universal to all of creation that, in some ways, it can powerfully bind us together.
After experiencing a number of losses, I observed a pattern in my grief process. It didn’t particularly matter, in my case, what the loss was; if it was significant enough to cause grief, I processed it with certain patterns.
My husband has also been through a significant number of tragic losses. I’ve walked these “valleys of the shadow of death” with him. More than anything, I wished I could create a grief-lifter-type recipe for just the right TLC. It is agonizing to watch your spouse or child have the wind knocked from them in grief. And for some losses, the grieving process is painstakingly long.
As a pastor’s wife, there is much ministry devoted to grief. Not necessarily formal grief ministry, but the hours of listening and prayer that are consumed with the grieving process others experience are significant. And again, I’ve wished for the formula to relieve these dear hearts from the crushing weight of grief.
I don’t have any foolproof recipes for the right way to comfort people, but I have found some common ways to offer comfort.
In English, the word “comfort” breaks down into Latin roots quite beautifully. Com comes from the root con, which means with. Fort comes from the Latin fortis, meaning strong. True comfort means that we go through something with another person to make them stronger. I think understanding that we weren’t meant to “fix” someone else’s grief is one of the first, best ways to comfort them. We just need to be with them in their pain. The act of being with our spouse is most powerful.
As a wife, I have sometimes sought to “be with” my husband in more smothering than helpful ways. For some husbands, that approach might have been just what they needed. But my husband needs space to grieve. So, being “with” him is sometimes more of an emotional and spiritual reality than a practical/physical one. Supporting him as he took the time he needed to pray and process was more the kind of comfort he needed than me arranging extra time or activities for us to do together. Telling him in a note that I was praying for him and that I saw all he was carrying on his heart was more “with” him in the sense of supporting him than going for a walk on the beach to hash out a disappointing loss or memories of a deceased relative. More than doing or talking through things together, he needed to know I was with him through my expressions of support.
For each spouse, the best way to offer “togetherness” in grief differs. And it is possible this will change for each grief your spouse walks through. The way I grieved my grandmother’s passing was different than the way I grieved our miscarriage. So, the kind of support and “with-ness” I needed from my husband was different.
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While there can be specific needs for each grief we process, there can also be similarities. As a wife, I have found it helpful to look for the broader commonalities in the ways I express my support.
Regardless of the loss, I know my man’s need for space to process means it isn’t the time to overbook the schedule or start a major house repair/project. He needs room to breathe. Giving him that space and time expresses my support for him.
Yet, a different spouse might need support because they work with their hands to process their grief, and they are going to need the time, financial resources, and support to dive into a project. The project might eat up their family time, make a mess all over, and require more funding than expected.
The thing about being married is that as our spouse’s partner in life, we get to learn what they need and try to be part of the process with them. We can offer “with-ness” that no one else really can because God mysteriously makes us one with our spouse.
A big part of learning to comfort my husband through his grief has been observing him to understand what does and doesn’t bless him in his moments of grief (rather than simply giving him large doses of what I think he needs).
When our young son wants to help, I tell him the first rule of helping is to listen to what a person needs. So often, we rush in to lift a burden but sometimes make more of a mess than help. Comfort is the same. We must listen and observe our spouse before rushing in with our prescription for the pain.
The second point of comfort is based on the Hebrew definition of the word. In Hebrew, the word for comfort is sometimes translated as rest. Rest is a form of relief and, thus, a form of comfort. Processing grief is exhausting. There are moments you are emotionally running as hard and fast as you can, moments you are fighting, moments you feel like you’ve been emotionally and spiritually doggie paddling in the middle of the ocean for as long as you can remember. Grief will require rest along the way so it can be processed.
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What rests your spouse’s heart? This is another one of those observe-and-listen kinds of support we can give our beloved—no formulas, but still a necessary ingredient.
My husband rests when he doesn’t have to do anything. He rests with extra sleep. He recharges in quiet moments of solitude and stillness. Rest is simpler for him than for me. I rest on a hike in the mountains. I relax while doing something with my hands that is simple enough to be successful but challenging enough to be fulfilling once done. I rest in sweet fellowship with an intimate circle of family or friends.
Regardless of how you or your spouse rest, it is necessary for the grieving process, and learning how to support times of true and deep rest for your spouse is an important part of helping them through this valley.
The last point, and perhaps the easiest to implement, comes from the verse at the start of this article – comfort through God’s Word. As a younger Christian, I often tried to apply God’s Word like a salve to the pain I saw others experiencing. After all, it has and is the best healing balm for my hurts. But in my eagerness to help, I frequently applied scriptures at the “wrong” moment, in less than helpful ways, or passages that did not end up being the blessing I intended. However, God hears our hearts through prayer, and He is able to apply His healing Word at just the right moment, in just the right way. So I began praying Scriptures of comfort, rest, hope, healing, and relief over those I loved who were walking the valley of grief. His Word revives us in our affliction, but it isn’t always the right thing for us to pour God’s Word over a grieving heart. It can come across as cliche and even terribly hurtful for someone to quote Romans 8:28 at us when we are grieving. But it is always right to ask God to work the good out for our spouse or loved ones in ways that are clear to them, in ways that bring peace and closure to this pain in their heart, etc.
Two years ago, our church lost our very dearly loved associate pastor. He left this life through the painful doors of a paralyzing lymphoma. I have watched people leave this world in all manner of ways, but his passing (just as his living) overflowed so powerfully with God’s grace. In the last few weeks of his days here with us, unbeknownst to us, God orchestrated a marathon of prayer warriors. I started to realize it in our home, but after his passing, I saw a glimpse of what God did for our brother through the prayers of many others as well. My husband was deeply devoted to praying for his dearest friend and ministry partner. He prayed at all hours. But the moment he would fall asleep, I would wake up and feel so strongly the need to pray for our brother and his wife. I had this sort of picture in my head that it was like the moment you run alongside someone in a relay race. We were running next to him; this was his long marathon to finish, but each of us had a short sprint to simultaneously run next to him, praying, encouraging, comforting, and cheering him on through our fervent prayers. We all know how loudly the Lord’s voice must have echoed over heaven’s courts when our brother came into glory, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Comfort, relief, and even rest were needed in the last stretch of his race. And God moved so many of us to pray His Word and strength over our brother. We often think of praying for the grief of those who have lost a loved one, but there can be much personal grief as we transition from this life to the next for a variety of reasons. And I watched as God called a host of believers to the side of our associate pastor in prayer for the last stretch of his well-run race.
There hasn’t been a loss in our family, friends, or church life where I haven’t prayed God’s words over those grieving. And in each loss, in some little way or another, they shared how God comforted them, describing it in the specific ways I’d been praying. Combining God’s Word and prayer for our loved ones who are grieving is a vital ministry of comfort.
How much more ought we pray God’s words of comfort over our spouse? There is something precious and unique about the powerful prayers of a husband or wife. When the storm clouds of grief darken our view of our spouse or strain the desired sense of unity between us, prayer connects our hearts. And it is sometimes the best and only gift of comfort we can give to them amid profound grief.
If you or your spouse are experiencing grief right now, contact us for a set of Scripture Prayer Cards to help you get started praying God’s Word for comfort over your spouse.
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April Motl is a pastor’s wife, homeschool mom, and women’s ministry director. When she’s not waist-deep in the joys and jobs of motherhood, being a wife, and serving at church, she writes and teaches for women. You can find more encouraging resources from April here and here.
LISTEN: How to Grieve Well
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