Six Words to Say Through Tears

The Source of Comfort in the Pain of Grief

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This week I went to the graveside service for a young woman who struggled with lots of hard things in this life. As I gave her mother a hug, she whispered in my ear, “She’s safe. I know she’s safe.”

This mom has had many difficult days and sleepless nights during her daughter’s life when she didn’t have that confidence. But as they put her daughter’s body into the ground, she was taking hold of something solidly true — that her daughter’s soul is now “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8), where she is safe in his care.

Grasping for Truth

This is not the first time I’ve been around grieving people and heard them repeat something similar — a statement or idea they had taken hold of in order to try to make sense of their loss or to find comfort in the midst of loss. I’ve heard people repeat things like, “She was just too good for this world,” and, “Death was the only way he could finally find any peace,” and, “I guess God just needed him more there than we do here.” And, of course we often say and hear, “He’s in a better place.”

When we’re reeling from the loss of someone we love, we look for something solid to grab hold of to find stability in a storm of sadness and clarity in a sea of confusion. Some of the things we grab hold of are profoundly true and therefore prove to steady us in the storm. But some of the things we grab hold of emanate from the vacuous spirituality and shallow beliefs of our modern culture, instead of from the solid truth of God’s word. They might sound nice, but they simply aren’t true. Or, perhaps more often, they are only partly true. Some of the very spiritual-sounding things we say to ourselves, or hear others say to us, in the midst of grief have no scriptural basis, or even contradict Scripture.

C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “Comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end. If you look for comfort, you will not get either comfort or truth — only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.”

So, as we search for something to grab hold of in the midst of grief that will bring comfort, or as we search for words to say to someone else who is grieving, we want to make sure that what we’re grabbing hold of, or offering to someone else to hold onto, is profoundly, fully, and eternally true.

Six Words: “I Can Trust God with This”

Since the graveside service this week, I’ve been asking myself, what are those profoundly and eternally true things we can grab hold of in the midst of grief that will serve as an anchor for the soul, when the winds and waves of grief are coming over the bow and threatening to take us down for good? I think the answer is essentially one thing that has many iterations or implications, which is: “I can trust God with this.”

Recently I wrote a whole book about what to say to grieving people, because when we speak to grieving people, our words really matter.

But when we are the ones who are grieving, what is far more important than what other people say to us is what we say to ourselves — what we say to ourselves in between sobs, when we have more questions than answers, when the emptiness feels overwhelming, when anger is getting a foothold in our heart.

When the grief is fresh and intense, we might take some wild ideas for a test drive, but to move toward healing and return to joy requires that we press this one idea deeply into our souls until it begins to impact us at the level of our feelings: “I can trust God with this.”

“I can trust God with this” has all kinds of implications that bring peace in the midst of grief’s chaotic thoughts and emotions. It means:

  • I can trust God with the timing of my loved one’s death.
  • I can trust God with the way my loved one died.
  • I can trust God with the unknowns about my future.
  • I can trust God with my unanswered questions until faith becomes sight.
  • I can trust God to heal the hurt.
  • I can trust God to fill the emptiness.
  • I can trust God to illumine this darkness.
  • I can trust God to restore joy to my life.
  • I can trust God to speak to me through his word.
  • I can trust God to supply sufficient grace and divine power for facing whatever comes.
  • I can trust God to cause this to work together for my good and for the good of others impacted by this, to conform us more closely to the image of Christ.
  • I can trust God that resurrection day is really coming and it will be worth all the waiting.

Even if, or perhaps especially if, we’re unsure if the person who died was genuinely joined to Christ by faith, we can say:

  • I can trust that God knows who belongs to him, even if I don’t know if my loved one belonged to him.
  • I can trust that God will do what is right, even if I don’t know what God will do.
  • I can put my trust in a God who is merciful and loves to save, even if I don’t know if my loved one trusted in that mercy or took hold of that salvation.

Speak to Your Thoughts

When the sorrow of life seemed to mock his dependence on God, the psalmist wrote,

My tears have been my food day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:3)

His agonized emotions were speaking to him, suggesting that God had abandoned him, so he challenged that voice, rather than believe it. He confronted what was being said to him, rather than letting it determine his outlook. The psalmist poured out his complaint to God, but he also intentionally spoke to his own soul in both a questioning and instructive tone:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God. (Psalm 42:5)

Rather than listening to his own desperate thoughts, he spoke truth to his thoughts. Rather than trusting his feelings, he challenged them. Rather than talking about the truth of the gospel as something out there for other people, he applied it to himself personally. Praying to God, he preached hope to himself.

That’s what we must do in the midst of our tears. That’s what my friend did this week in the midst of her tears. When she whispered in my ear, “I know she’s safe,” in essence she was saying, “I can trust God with this. I can trust God to keep her safe.”

attends Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, in Franklin, Tennessee, and teaches at conferences around the country and internationally, including her Biblical Theology Workshops for Women. She and her husband host Respite Retreats for couples who have faced the death of a child and are co-hosts of the GriefShare video series.