I have just spent some time with a grieving father. It’s been seven years. But he still hurts. Sadder still, he is still being hurt by those innocently wishing him well. Of course, wishing wells come in three varieties. There’s the one where you toss a coin in to make a wish. The other one can either be done poorly or well. And then there’s how we convey support for someone (when we wish them well). I’m sure all three have their place, but I am particularly interested in the last two of the three, and am most particularly interested in the last variety because it affects people like my friend, the grieving father. If you want to truly comfort those grieving a tragic loss, then consider this advice on wishing well.
THE SPIRITUAL ART OF WISHING
Wishing is Biblical. The most common form of “wish” in the Bible (Greek word, ‘thelo’) means to will, desire, want. We use wish in this sense when we say things like, “I wish it would stop raining.” There are other uses of wish in the Bible which seem to go further than this and mean- to have a deep longing for. For example, the Apostle Paul had a deep longing and wish for his countrymen to come to know Christ and be saved from their sin.
¶ Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.
God’s wish and deep longing goes further and is toward all people to be saved –
The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
Second Peter 3:9
Thus, wishing has a spiritual element.
THE LIMITS OF WISHING
Even though we wish for certain things to be different or to be changed, there are some things which no amount of wishing could ever change, such as, changing the past – especially a past where there was the loss of a loved one. Wishing works best when focussed on the future.
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
What should we say to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one? I’m sure that most of us would want to wish them well. However, this intention sometimes fails in its delivery. For example, “You’ll get over this” might be true, but it can sound like a lack of compassion and sympathy (as if the life of the lost can easily be forgotten). “God has a reason“, can sound like God had just smitten a person with His wrath because they were particularly wicked. Well meaning people can say well meaning things that sound cruel to the griever and become unintentionally hurtful.
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
How should we comfort those grieving the loss of a loved one who has taken their own life? Therapists call this kind of grief ‘complex grief’ because grief normally involves sadness and a measure of anger toward the cause of the death. This is made complex when the loved one is the cause.
Counselors call this kind of grief a complicated grief or a complicated bereavement because grievers are actually dealing with two realities: grief and trauma. The grief of losing a loved one is normal and expected, but with suicide comes trauma. In processing a suicide, there is no easy path to peace and the grief journey cycles through all sorts of different feelings and emotions.
Christianity Today, October 20 2017
The kind of mental anguish that causes so much pain that it leads someone to take their own life is hard to understand. But I think that we as Christians should make every effort to try. Too many of us are too busy. It takes time and great patience to convey the kind of empathy the mentally ill could benefit from. In talking with my friend today, I asked him what was it that people said that really didn’t help? He gave me a list. Among that list were these things that he said should never be said to someone grieving the passing a loved one who has taken their own life.
“I know exactly what you’re going through.”
“How did they take their life?”
“How are you?”
It was difficult for my friend to share with me. He did said that the best thing anyone ever did in his grieving was to show their support by just being there but saying nothing. Don’t assume you can give someone a hug. They may not want anyone to touch them.
Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down,
but a good word makes him glad.
To be wishing well those who are in grief or anguish, we need not be afraid of the various helps available.
The church should not be afraid of psychology or medicine. Sometimes Christians think, Oh, that’s unspiritual. If we just believe or pray more, then we’d be able to heal this. But, no, these are ways that the church can minister to one another. God gave us people who are researchers and understand medicine, brain chemistry, and neuroscience. The better we understand these things, the better we can help one another. Just as we would not think it unspiritual to medically heal somebody for cancer or leukemia, it’s okay to provide treatment for depression and mental illness.
Christianity Today, October 20 2017
By being sensitive to those in anguish and learning how to support them appropriately, we can be a safe, healing, hope-imparting church. Such a church is surely better than any wishing well.
Pastor Andrew Corbett