At eleven o'clock last night, when I was ready for bed, I got a message from a church member.
It said, "My mother-in-law passed away about one month ago. Due to the COVID-19, we couldn't even see her during her last minute of life. My wife has been very sad, and she often cries bitterly. She thinks that because she did something wrong, God punished her by taking away the opportunity to take care of her mother before she passed away.
I comforted her a lot, and told her that our mother is resting in the arms of God. However, what I tried didn't work, and she continues to be in great pain.
Our fellow church members often call her and tell us to confess our sins. We followed their advice and knelt before God and confessed our sins, both known and unknown sins. All the while, my wife continued to suffer. It's been a long time. She is not getting better, and I don't know what to do. Please pray for us."
Reading the message, I was reminded of a phone-call I received when I was doing hotline counseling a few days previously. The caller said, "My confidant was outgoing, but the COVID-19 totally changed her. I really want to help her; however, I don't know what I should do.
Her mother died during the period of COIVD-19. It has been a long time since the day her mother was admitted to the hospital until she has been cremated. She knew nothing about it.
My confidant was in pain. She thought she loved the Lord, never was absent for Sunday services, was strict about tithing, and often served in the Church. She can't understand how such a thing happened to her."
When people around you suffer like this, as a Christian, how can you help them?
First, don't condemn them. Even though relatives pass away, this doesn't mean it is because of sin among family members that is being punished by the Lord. In Revelation 14:13, John said, "Then I heard a voice from heaven say, 'Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.' 'Yes,' says the Spirit,' they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them'." Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, and the Holy Spirit warned us that they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.
It's natural and common that believers suffer sorrow and pain when their relatives pass away. It is not necessarily because they have committed some unforgivable sin. As Christians, we should not condemn them for their weakness. They love their relatives, crying and experiencing pain are ways they express their grief and that they miss those who have passed.
Secondly, when you serve these persons, spend time with them. When Lazarus died, the Bible tells us that "many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him." The Jews saw this and followed her, thinking that she was going to the grave to weep.
John, the disciple of the Lord, described the way others came to visit and be with those who were suffering. When they heard about the death of Lazarus, they actively visited Martha and Mary, comforted them, and watched what they did.
Companionship is one way that we show our love and concern. Through your comfort, they can feel your support and know that you understand the pain they are facing right now. Companionship, instead of teaching or requiring them to do something, means that we should put ourselves in their shoes so we can understand and support them. We can't completely understand what they have suffered, and we should also know that how others express their sadness is often beyond our imagination. The greatest comfort for them is to feel your support and that you are accompanying them in their pain.
Third, lead them to look to God. Paul, the apostle, said in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14: "Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him."
Those who have fallen asleep in the Lord, Paul told us, are not leaving us forever, but they are sleeping now. When the Lord Jesus returns, they will wake up and be with us again in Christ.
The departure of our loved ones is temporary. Now they are just sleeping, they will wake up. Both we who live in this world and those who have fallen asleep in the Lord are under God's control, but in different ways. Therefore, as a follower of the Lord, you and I need to guide these members in their weakness and pain to look upon God, to present all their feelings to the Lord, and pray for God to help them experience the presence of the Lord in their suffering.
Finally, learn to seek help as you serve others. Some believers may suffer for a long time because of the death of their loved ones, so that their daily life is affected. They may be unable to sleep at night, remain anxious for a long time, be unwilling to accept the death of a loved one, suffer from hallucinations or experience other problems.
As friends and relatives, we should be present with them, constantly pray for them, and church members can communicate with them in different ways. However, if all these did not have much effect, we should ask for help from those who have special gifts in grief therapy who can offer professional psychological counseling and pastoral care to help them cope with the current difficulties.
The distress these believers are in, which we can't really understand or imagine, can't be dealt with in one or two visits. Therefore, in our service to them, we should have a spirt of gentleness, patience and waiting, put ourselves, based on faith, in the shoes of the weak, and fulfill our duty through the guiding from the Holy Spirit.
- Translated by Sophia Chen