My friend is hurting emotionally. How can I help her?

Is there scriptural guidance for giving comfort to others?

In such a critical area of need, the Scriptures must offer a wealth of help. Here, however, are a few limited suggestions.

Use your two ears. For all the criticism Job’s friends deserve, they started their mission well. They were "with him." Their seven days of silence (Job 2:13) showed their sensitivity to the greatness of Job’s grief. They were genuine. If you are not genuine, nothing you say or do will help. Their silence offered them an opportunity they apparently missed: be sensitive to others! Your insights into the stages of grief might be valuable, but it’s more valuable to know where the grieving individual is in his unique, uncharted journey of sorrow. Questions or comments that encourage him to express his feelings are vital in giving comfort.

Use your heart. Many lessons come from the Lord’s giving comfort to Mary and Martha (John 11), but perhaps the greatest comfort to them before Lazarus was raised from the dead was their assurance that the Lord shared their love for their departed loved one (vv 3, 35, 36). His love for Lazarus was even greater than theirs, but that is not the case for us. Nevertheless, those who sorrow receive comfort in knowing that their loved one had a unique place in your respect and affections. Sincerely recounting an incident that typifies your appreciation of their loved one is a real comfort. Knowing that others recognize the significance of their loss is important to grieving loved ones. Knowing that others regarded their loved one’s life as significant gives comfort.

Use your head. "The heart knoweth his own bitterness" (Pro 14:10). We should never assume we know what another person is experiencing, even if we have gone through that exact experience. If a grieving person knows your experience and states that you know "how it feels," he has opened the door for you to help. But experience alone does not confer a "Master’s Degree in Comforting." Only to the degree a believer gets to know God in his trials (2 Cor 1:4) has he made progress in his "Master’s studies." He is not yet a "master." The degrees are conferred at the Bema.

Every trial is a trial of faith. A believer need not have the same experience to give comfort, but His faith must have responded to the Invisible (Hebrews 11:27) in His own experience. To that degree, he can strengthen the faith of others (see 2 Cor 1:4). Your experience with God may not be the help every other believer needs, however.

Use your Bible. Nothing can help like the Scriptures, for we receive hope through their consolation (Rom 15:4). Our objective is not to help a believer - or an unbeliever - to get through his sorrow, but to be spiritually enriched through his sorrow. In trying to comfort others, one size does not fit all. We are dependent on the Spirit to use us to bring to a grieving heart the biblical truth that will meet the need. If this was true for the Lord (Isa 50:4), how much more is it true for us! Ask the Lord for the right words to speak from Scripture.

D. Oliver