In fresh grief, well-meant words can sometimes wound.
Even now, I shake my head at the unhelpful comments I made as a young mom handing over a hot casserole and the painful comments said to me a few years later after my husband died. So when a radio host recently asked me for the three best words to tell someone in grief, I perked up.
Maybe it’s “I love you,” I thought as I waited for his answer. Those words sure comforted me as a new widow. Or maybe it’s “let me help.” Practical love is so needed when life falls apart.
But neither guess was correct. The three best words to say to someone in grief?
You’re not alone.
The deepest comfort comes when someone sees our pain—and sits with us in it.
I experienced this after my husband’s sudden death. On an ordinary Thursday night, I went to bed happily married to my high school sweetheart and woke up the next morning a widow and single mom to our seven children. On the pillow next to mine, my husband had unexpectedly taken his last breath.
My life felt like a beautiful Venetian vase that had been dropped, shattering my heart and family along with our future, our ordinary rhythms, and every one of my hopes and dreams.
Maybe you’ve had your own shattering loss—a miscarriage or loss of a child. Maybe your spouse walked out, or a diagnosis changed life as you knew it.
Those who came to sit with us, cry with us, and do life with us in our loss were a huge comfort. But the deepest, most healing comfort came from God Himself. Because in our pain, these are the very words God says to you and me: you’re not alone.
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit,” God promises (Psalm 34:18 NIV). His presence in our pain makes all the difference.
God is our help in the valley
God is a “very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1 NKJV), and His help isn’t a little assistance while we continue to control the situation. God’s divine help is unlike anything we could ask or imagine and comes as wisdom, provision, rescue, restoration, and more.
I’ve seen God’s divine help in my own grief. We were a one-income family and lost that income when my husband died, yet God has abundantly provided for every need in the years since. As I’ve single-parented and wrangled hundreds of decisions without my husband, God has given His wisdom. In an unexpected and unwanted future, God has guided me with His hope. And in moments when pain and loneliness were too much, God has sustained me with His grace.
God is compassionate to us
While pity sees pain and stays distant, compassion steps alongside someone in that pain. God doesn’t stay far off in pity, but is present with us in compassion. In fact, God is the Father of compassion (2 Corinthians 1:3–4). The Hebrew word for “compassion” also means “womb,” and immediately we can see God’s compassion is like the constant cherishing and nurturing a mother has for her child in her womb.
God’s compassion never fails. Right now, He is acting in compassion for you. It’s part of His character and as such, we’ll never go through a circumstance or get to a place where God’s compassion isn’t with us and for us.
God welcomes our hard emotions
God never intends for us to manage the emotions of grief alone. God, who created us fearfully and wonderfully, also created our emotions.
Our emotions may unsettle us or those around us, but they don’t unsettle God.
We don’t have to hide our pain or fake that we’re fine. While we often try to stuff, escape, or self-medicate our pain away, God gives us the best option: to bring our hard emotions to Him.
The psalms of lament show how David regularly took his sadness, despair, fear, and questions to God, laid them there, and then chose to trust God’s character and His promises. Our emotions are not only safe with God—they are safest with God.
When our lives shatter unexpectedly like a dropped Venetian vase, we don’t get a pass from the pain. We get something infinitely better: intimate nearness with God. It’s not true only on the days we feel it. It’s true because God declares it. All through scripture, God tells us the three best words in our brokenness: you’re not alone.
“And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NKJV).
About the Author
Lisa Appelo is author of Life Can Be Good Again: Putting Your World Back Together After It All Falls Apart. A former litigating attorney, Lisa is passionate about rich Bible teaching. She writes at the popular site LisaAppelo.com, founded a team of writers at hopeingrief.com, and serves on the Executive Team for COMPEL with Proverbs 31 Ministries. As a single mom of seven, Lisa’s days are filled with parenting, ministry, and long walks to justify lots of dark chocolate.