Walking Through the Valley with You - For The One Extending Care

Introduction

If you have a friend who has lost a loved one, and you want to reach out to her but do not know how; this has been written for you.  It will prepare and equip you to bring comfort to your friend. If you have been hesitant to reach out to your grieving friend, it will give you more confidence to keep your friend company at a time when she needs it most.  

We have also published a companion book: Walking Through The Valley With You - For The Bereaved

This companion book is for you to give to your friend as a gift to help her go through this difficult time.

Your friend has just experienced something quite sad. The death of her loved one may have come suddenly, or it may have been anticipated over a long period of time. Nonetheless, when it happens, sadness sets in, taking her into a dark valley.

The news may have reached you in one of two ways - 1) you found out through some mutual friends or through an obituary, or 2) your friend calls you, and you know that she needs you.

If you learn about the bad news indirectly, contact your friend right away to express your condolences. If she is not reachable, send a card or flowers to let her know that she has your sympathy. At this point, she may need some personal space, and you may not hear back from her. Don’t worry, your expression of love and care will be felt.

If she is reachable, you may offer to visit her. If she accepts your offer, great.  You will have a chance to see her face to face.

If she calls you to break the news to you, you should offer to be at her side as soon as possible.

 

Be there!

Why it is important?

The one most important and effective way you can show that you care is to go to be at her side as soon as you hang up the phone. At the moment of the call, she is probably scared and feels helpless and lonely. For sure she is deeply saddened. As soon as you get to her home and she opens the door, most likely she cannot wait to hug you and burst into tears. At that moment, her feelings find an outlet. Why? It is simply because you are there for her.

To “be there” for a person in emotional need has a powerful effect. Think about how good it feels when someone gives you her undivided attention, focusing on your needs and feelings when you are down.  

Switch off your cell phone. Clear your mind of your other thoughts. Give her your top priority for that moment.

Timing is everything. You need to be there ASAP. In our busy world, it is easier said than done. If you wait for a few days and then call, the person will not feel that you care. The effectiveness of your caring will greatly diminish.

If you are a parent, you know how difficult it is to get your young child to start sleeping in her own room for the first time with the lights off. Even with a night light, she is still scared when you leave her room. But if you read her a bedtime story or a bible passage and tell her that you will stay in her room until she goes to sleep, she will feel quite relaxed and will fall asleep quickly. What is the difference? The difference is that you are there with her. It’s your presence that makes the difference.

A person plunges into deep mourning because someone very dear to her is gone. If she has no belief in God, she can only blame it on fate. But, if she believes in an all powerful and all loving God, it’s likely that she may feel abandoned by God, although she may not admit it. She may feel disappointed and betrayed by God. She may feel that God is not there for her anymore. However, if at that moment, you can find the time to come and be there to listen to her, allowing her to express her feelings, she is much less likely to say that God is not there for her. It is quite awesome to realize that our being there for a mourning person actually brings her into the presence of God.

 

Bring Jesus

In your visit, your friend may feel so comforted that she wants you to stay longer or perhaps all day long.  In reality, of course you will not be able to oblige. You do have your own life to live. But you do not want to disappoint her. What would you do? I suggest that the next time you visit her, tell her that you are bringing a friend with you, and his name is Jesus. Tell her that when you leave, Jesus will stay behind and keep her company. Suggest to her that she can talk to him just as she talks to you.

 

Listen!

Listening is harder than talking

After you have given your friend your gift of “being there”, the next important thing for you to do is to listen to her. This is easier said than done. As strange as it might seem, most people do not know how to listen, yet those who are in mourning need someone who is a good listener. Listening is a skill that most people lack, yet it is essential for caring.

Your friend in grief has a lot of feelings and emotions stored up inside her. These need a release. When you show that you are there for her and that you are willing to listen, you help her open the floodgate of her feelings. You must realize, however, that when those feelings gush out, she is not in a state of mind to listen to others talking. She simply needs to pour her feelings out.

As her friend, just lend her your ears, your shoulders, and your heart. Don’t talk about your own problems, or your own grieving experience in the past, or compare her with someone else. Above all, do not analyze and give advice.

Say to your friend, “I am truly sorry to hear of your situation. Please tell me what happened and how you feel. I am here for you, and I would like to listen to you. I promise that what you tell me will stay with me.” Most of the time, you don’t even have to say these words. The flood gate opens, and words just pour out. You just listen and give the person a gentle touch on the back.

Keeping what you hear confidential is a huge part of gaining your friend’s trust so that she can feel free to disclose something personal without fearing that her trust will be betrayed.

In order to encourage her to continue the release of her feelings, tell her that you are interested in what she has to say.

Remember that you are a guest, and your friend is your host. Thank her for the opportunity to visit her, and thank her for her trust in you to open up to you. 

 

Listening vs. problem solving

Listening is a big part of being there, but you need to be careful on your attitude. Too often we listen like we are in a debate. While we listen, we begin to analyze the situation, identify the problem, and formulate a solution to the problem. We form our opinion to agree or disagree with what we hear. Sometimes we hear what we want to hear and reject what doesn’t make sense to us. Being truly present means suspending judgment while you’re listening. A judgmental attitude tends to bring conflict and hurt, rather than care. The person will not feel that you have any empathy. She needs you to hear out her suffering, not to offer suggestions or judgment. What she needs is your care and concern.

We confuse caring with problem solving. Caring starts by being on the same page with the person, looking at the situation from her perspective, and feeling what she feels. This can only be accomplished by being there on her side and by careful listening.

 

Listen with your eyes

Besides listening with your ears, train yourself to listen with your eyes. Observe the body language of your friend, because it tells you a lot of what’s really happening inside her. Even when words fail to express her feelings, her body language will continue to speak volumes.  

 

Observe the inner world by listening

Your friend has a lot of pain that is buried deep in her inner world. But you cannot just barge in. You need to be invited. By your being there and listening caringly, you stand a good chance of entering into her inner world where you can help her process and heal her pain. Be sure you do not carry with you your own agenda. Let her guide you and let her take the lead on what she wants to disclose to you.

 

Understand the link between feelings and beliefs

When your sensitive listening has taken you to a place where you begin to feel what she feels, reflect carefully your understanding to make sure that you get her feeling right. For each feeling, it is usually linked to a belief. For example, if she feels worried, it is because she believes that things will get worse or out of control or something bad is about to happen. Her belief, whether right or wrong, triggers her feeling.

Explain to your friend that there is a big difference between concern and worry. Her belief on a bad future scenario should cause concern, and she can take ownership and think of ways to avoid or minimize the damage. However, if she yields herself to worrying, she has surrendered prematurely to some event that may or may not happen in the future. Life is full of challenges. We do our best to overcome and we don’t let worry defeat us.

  

Don’t be too quick to react and provide answers

Sometimes the person in deep hurt may burst out with bitter questions. The following are some examples:

Am I experiencing very bad luck?

Is the devil attacking me?

Is God unwilling or unable to heal?

Why does God take him away when he is most needed by the family?

In this case, try to listen to the “feelings” behind words that appear as questions. She is trying to express her feelings, rather than looking for answers. These questions have no answers, and you should not even try to provide them. The best thing you can do is to listen carefully and validate the feelings expressed:

 “I can feel that you are hurting. I wish I had an answer to your question, but I don’t. If I were in your situation, I probably would express myself the same way as you too.”

The Book of Job in the Bible is good to read to understand questions that have no answers. Job’s friends tried to offer answers, but they ended up sounding argumentative. They brought Job even more pain.

Even Jesus expressed his suffering by asking a question in Matthew 27:46: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”   

Jesus was not looking for some theologian to provide an answer to him. He was expressing his anguish and suffering on the cross.

 

Validate the person’s feeling

The person is opening up herself to express how she feels. You do not have to agree or disagree with how she feels. But, you do need to validate what she is feeling. She may be expressing hurt, disappointment, anger, frustration, sadness, etc. Do not pass judgment on whether you agree if her feelings are justified. At that moment, she needs to express her feelings and vent her emotion. You need to validate by saying something like, “If I were in your situation, I probably would feel the same way,” or “I hear what you are saying, and I feel for you. It must be very difficult for you to be in your present situation.”

Some of the wrong things to say would be: “-Oh, it’s OK. Things will work themselves out. -You should look at the cup as half full and not half empty. -Have more faith and pray about it. I am sure God will show you the way out.”

“Being listened to is so close to being loved

that most people cannot tell the difference.”

- David Oxberg

 

Pray!

Offer to pray for your friend. If she wishes, and only if she wishes, gently place your hand on her shoulder and say a short prayer. Some people may not feel comfortable being touched. You need to be sensitive to her comfort level. Do not compose a long prayer. This is especially important if your friend is not yet a believer, and has never experienced being prayed for.

Ask her what she wants to tell God and address your prayer to God. Do not launch into a long sermon or manipulate your prayer into an evangelistic message.  Act as your friend’s spokesperson to tell God what she wants to say to Him.

Express your own sadness and empathy to tell God that you are hurting with her also.

Ask God to watch over her and comfort her to give her peace. Ask God to heal her wounded heart.

After you finished praying, tell her that God loves her and you care for her too. Give her your blessing.

Tell her that you will continue to think of her and pray for her.

The above are only some simple suggestions.  Be flexible in applying your prayer to fit the needs of your friend.

 

Take care of yourself

The biblical principle of loving your neighbor as yourself includes an element that is sometimes overlooked. We all understand why we should love others. But, in order for us to truly love others, we must learn to also love ourselves. I don’t mean that we should be self-centered, but I do mean that God considers us lovable because He paid the highest price to redeem us. You are precious in His sight.

In learning to love ourselves in a healthy way, we need to ascertain if we have experienced healing in our own grief and losses. Most of us have experienced the loss of a loved one, but not all of us have been healed from our painful bereavement experience. If you still carry painful baggage when you extend care to a friend, old wounds may open up and hurt you. Learn to examine yourself, and ask God for your own healing. Take on yourself as your own care receiver and give yourself permission to experience the love and healing power of God. Pray for yourself and care for yourself.

If in your self examination you uncover your own unfinished business, ask for God’s grace and strength to deal with it and clear your account with God and with others. Experience the freedom so that you may help your friend get out of bondage too.

May you experience God’s love so that His love may flow from you to touch your friend.

 

Acknowledgements

This booklet has been made possible through the tireless encouragement of my wife and ministry partner Janice. Through the process of several revisions of the manuscript, I received constructive and instructive comments from Cecilia Yau and Dr. Doris So.  I am indebted to the editorial help from my daughter-in-law Michile Lam on the English version. I am very fortunate to have the help of my old friend Wingming Chan and my sister Mabel Yin to translate it into Chinese to make it possible for us to publish a Chinese version.

Above all, I want to acknowledge my God and Master for giving me the words to put on the paper.

Ernest Lam

Orinda, California

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