Brady Lee was about to embark on a new journey that he could not have been more excited about. Everything seemed to be working out perfectly and according to God’s will for Brady. He was about to lead a team of Biola students to India for a short-term missions trip. Brady and the team had been preparing for this trip all semester.
“We had spent months fundraising and forming a close bond as a team,” says Brady.
He was excited to travel back to India where he had done missions the last semester, but as a leader this time. He hoped that the trip would be impactful and a great experience for everyone on the team. However, all of those feelings and hopes were drastically shattered when a member of their team, Hasiet Joy Negash, passed away from an asthma attack while on the trip. Suddenly, Brady’s feeling of hope had turned to grief over night.
“Don’t cry, it’s going to be okay,” some of the Indian pastors the team visited told him. But Brady needed to grieve. “Dude, I need to cry. It’s helpful to cry; I need to cry right now,” Brady remembers thinking.
“I did not look forward to coming back. It scared me,” he says. He wanted to stay with his team because they were the only people who “got it.” They shared the experience and understood the pain that he was feeling.
He felt a knot in the pit of his stomach as he stepped off the plane. How could Brady possibly be the leader and be there for all of his teammates while processing his own emotions? “I told myself that I had to put on a mask,” he says.
Some may ask, “Doesn’t Brady know the foundational truths about God’s character?”
Too often, Christians use biblical references as an excuse to ignore grief. One commonly used scripture is Isaiah 55:22: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” 1 Corinthians 16:19 seems to tell Christians to toughen up: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”
It seems that too often, Christians are using these verses as an excuse to have no grief. But do these mean there is no grief at all?
Remember: Jesus wept. Jesus grieved, felt what we are feeling, and sat where Brady is. The Holy Spirit grieves with us, and feels what we feel. These ideas are biblical too. God knows what it’s like to lose a son. Jesus was, as the Bible shows, a man of sorrows.
Many passages teach us the significance of grieving. For example, Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Brady says the one thing he needed during this time was to feel what he was feeling. He did not need passages read to him or spoken over him; he already knew God’s character.
“We don’t need an answer, we need a hug. at helps so much. Give us space when we need it. But also put your arm around us if we need it,” says Brady. “Be sensitive to that.”
Brady said some of the best support he was given was when people told him, “Hey, I don't know how to help you, but I care about you.”
The question, then, is how do we approach someone dealing with grief and sit with them in their tears? Now that the funeral is over and everyone has stopped asking questions, Brady has to adjust to a new “normal.”
“It’s never gonna be like it was before. Life’s happening, but Joy died a month ago and it’s so real and raw,” says Brady. “But things are over him; he already knew God’s character. “Tears before truth” is what was needed.
“We don’t need an answer, we need a hug. at helps so much. Give us space when we need it. But also put your arm around us if we need it. Be sensitive to that,” said Brady.
Brady said that some of the best support he was given was people tell him, ‘Hey, I don’t know how to help you, but I care about you.’
The question then is how do we approach someone dealing with grief and sit with them in their tears? Now that the funeral is over and everyone has stopped asking questions, Brady has to adjust to a new “normal.” He explains how the grief would come in waves.
“It’s never gonna be like it was before. Life’s happening, but Joy died a month ago and it’s so real and raw,” Brady thought. “But things are moving on.”
He would wonder, “How much should I think about and grieve that and how much should I live?”. He had to learn to not feel guilty for grieving.
Aware of this challenging experience, how should one approach Brady and others like him?
“You need to sit in their pain and anguish with them — and not be afraid to go to the depths of their despair with them. Our presence, once again, is the most powerful tool we have,” says Dr. Melanie Taylor from the Biola Counseling Center. “Everyone is different and part of being with them in their grief is being what they need us to be ... e closeness of another brings the closeness of God into human form.”
Unfortunately, many of those who mean well miss the mark in their role as caretaker. Gavin Sweeney, a junior communication studies major, knows this. After his mom passed away due to cancer a year ago, he felt like there was a vacuum hole inside of his life. All Gavin wanted was to ask his mom for advice with a girl or his homework, or to just talk. But he couldn’t anymore. at privilege had been taken away from him.
“Hey, at least you’ve had time to repair,” people would say. But they didn’t get it. They didn’t understand. Part of his life was gone now and no amount of time could heal that
“Whoever said that time heals is a liar,” says Gavin.
One of the most di cult positions for a person to experience might be that of one who must comfort those in grief — the one sitting in the tears with them. Stefan Vandenkooy, a junior Bible major and Gavin’s best friend, experienced this firsthand. As his roommate, Stefan says that the most helpful thing he could do was listen, because his friend was a verbal processor. He says his method of comfort was “lock the door, let him talk.” He also made sure to do little things that would make his friend’s life easier, such as cleaning their dorm room, doing his laundry and taking out the garbage. He also wanted to make sure that his friend’s family knew that he was in good hands.
Stefan says the the hardest thing was the days when questions came up: Why did this happen? Who is God when this happens? But God gave Stefan the words to speak to his friend, and there were moments where the Spirit let Stefan say things he wouldn’t normally say.
If asked for advice from a person needing to comfort a friend in grief, Stefan would tell them to be strongly aware of their pain and to sit in it as long as they can, but not to try to understand it — because they won’t. “A shoulder to cry on is always more important than a voice to speak into their life,” Stefan says.
In addition, Stefan and other friends intentionally offered their friend space when he was home so he could rest and spend time with family and friends. As a floor, they prayed for him both when he was away and at Biola, and guys who had been friends with him since freshman year went to his mom’s memorial service.
“All we were was just a presence that was there if he wanted to get away and was feeling heavy,” says Stefan. He also told the guys on the floor what not to do, like praying for him on the spot or trying to understand what he was going through.
“Just let him know that you love him,” Stefan told them.
“People are always going to say stupid things without thinking, but he had to know we weren’t tip toeing around him, but walking firmly with him,” he explains.
Gavin Sweeney, a communication studies major at Biola. said that “one of the most helpful things a friend can do is figure out what everyone else is doing, and then figure out what isn’t being done.” Find their needs. One thing in particular that Stefan did for Gavin was write him a poem called, “Tell Cancer She’s Ugly.” Gavin said you also need to remember that when things return to “normal,” his normal life still isn’t normal. “It does not get better over time,” says Gavin.
Because of this situation, Stefan finds their friendship stronger, as it's not founded on memories alone, but on being able to suffer together well.
Stefan put it like this, “People who lose a loved one are like an amputee, they will heal, but they are never the same. If you are running with an amputee, you don’t run like they’re an amputee, you run like they want to run with you.”
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