Over a year ago I received a crushing text message from one of our elders. It read, “Sadie went to be with the Lord.” Sadie was his sixteen month old daughter.
She had been perfectly healthy, but after a seizure following Halloween, she was diagnosed with leukemia. I received the text informing me of her death four days before Christmas. Just like that she was gone.
Sadie had a rare form of leukemia that aggressively attacked her body, and devastated her family. I gathered my family together and shared the news. We cried together, and prayed for their family. Afterwards, I went to Sadie’s family.
As a lead pastor for the last eight years, I have counseled and comforted grieving individuals in all circumstances, but this was by far the most difﬁcult. As I consider the situations and circumstances we pastors are commonly in, I began thinking about a tool or strategy that could be helpful for comforting grieving families and individuals. I put it in the form of an acronym, B.L.E.S.S.
B – Be physically present.
I know it is impossible for us to be at every crisis, but letʼs not allow the rare times we are unable to get with grieving members serve as the rule for distancing ourselves from physically present ministry.
Can phone calls and text messages be encouraging and helpful? Yes. But if you have a family in a crisis or grief, our physical presence can be such a comfort and act of love toward them. Yes, this means our routines, plans, and scheduled activities may get sidetracked, but we must be willing to be interrupted for the sake of comforting the hurting ﬂock of our Master.
We may fear the awkwardness, silence, or devastating pain that awaits us upon arrival, but letʼs move beyond our own discomforts as we consider the magnitude of theirs.
L – Listen to them.
One of biggest mistakes we make in pastoral care is when we arrive on the scene and begin talking. We do not have to storm in to ﬁx anything or dish out solutions like a Pez dispenser.
One of the most important things we can do is listen. Listen to their hurt, confusion, and questions. Sometimes those who are hurting are still trying to process emotions and feelings. Often times they are without words to describe how they feel.
It is perfectly ﬁne to ask a few questions, “How are you guys holding up?” “What is the most difﬁcult right now?” “How can I/we (the church) help you?” All these questions and others are certainly permissible, but we must not act like new journalist interviewers.
We must take time to listen to what they are saying and observing how they are handling the situation. Pray for God to give you ears to hear the cries of His people and understand where they are emotionally and spiritually.
E – Empathize with their pain.
One of the most helpful things we can learn to do as pastors, and as Christians for that matter, is empathizing with people. To empathize with someone is to feel and experience with them what they are feeling and experiencing. It is to place ourselves in their shoes.
After I received the news from our elder about his daughter, in an instant I thought about my children and how crushed I would be if I lost them; I was crushed. They were not forced tears. They were the tears of someone who was feeling along with this family what they were feeling.
This is what it means to live out Romans 12:15 when we are exhorted to “rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” Sometimes the greatest comfort to a grieving family is for us to grieve alongside them.
S – Share a passage of Scripture.
As pastors we should ﬁrst and foremost be Bible people. The Word is our wisdom, not any sort of pop psychology. The suffering saints need the promises of their Father to stabilize and comfort them in their hurts. One of the most practical ways as a pastor for us to do this is memorizing a few passages that may be used when we are in these types of situations.
I have found three passages incredibly useful: Psalm 46:1; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Isaiah 41:10. Each of these passages offer different wording of the central promise of Godʼs nearness, faithfulness, and all-sufﬁcient grace as we suffer. Memorize passages like this so you may be armed to offer life-giving, soul-feeding truths in times of crisis.
S – Say a prayer for them.
Never leave a family simply with a promise to pray for them, pray there with them. Ask God to comfort them; plead His mercy over them. Thank God for His goodness, even in trials. Thank Him for his faithfulness to them. Pray the Scripture you shared. Remind them of Godʼs nearness in their bitter providence. Whatever you do, donʼt leave until you petition the Father of all grace on their behalf.
May the Chief Shepherd guide you as you seek to B.L.E.S.S. the sheep through their trials, griefs, and pains.