Last week I attended a meeting at which we prayed for the family of a teenager who was arrested recently in connection with a shooting. In the prayer, petitions were made for the accused and his family as well as the victims and their families. I began to think about how we pray for those who are grieving. What words do we say? What requests do we make? In those intimate moments, how do we make sure we say the right things? I remember that before the visitation prior to my mom’s funeral the pastor met with our family and said something to the effect of, “People will say a lot of stupid things because they don’t know how to handle grief.” And he was right. The same is true when we pray for those who are grieving. We don’t know how to handle it, so we pray some stupid prayers. And I am not immune to this. I have just become more aware of the stupid things that I and others say to those who are grieving. But in order to help with this problem, I decided to put together what I would say are the do’s and don’ts of praying for the grieving. (NOTE: These pertain to all forms of grief, not just grief after the death of a loved one. There are many ways in which we grieve.)
DO pray for people who are grieving. They need and often want your prayers. Sometimes that may mean just a silent prayer between you and God, but it never hurts to offer to pray with the grieving person(s). You may be amazed at what God could do through that opportunity.
DO focus on the love and comfort that comes from God. When you’ve lost someone you love, you feel lonely. A void has been created that will never be filled, but can be healed over time through the grace of God and the love of others.
DO use Scripture as a basis for your prayers…particularly the Psalms. So many times the Word of God can say the things we want to say far better than we can. Immerse yourself in the Psalms so that you can draw from them when a need arises.
DO allow silence to speak when words aren’t coming to your mind. In those moments, it is often better to just sit in silence than to open your mouth before you’ve calculated your words. Sometimes silence says more than our words can anyway.
DON’T pray, “Thy will be done.” Christians have taken this phrase from Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, but I do not believe we use it properly. Jesus prayed that prayer for himself. He knew what God wanted him to do, but he wished there was another way. When we pray that for someone else, it can be harmful. If someone’s mother has terminal cancer and we pray for healing and then add, “But thy will be done,” that person we are praying for may feel two things. First, they may feel that we don’t believe in the power of prayer. And second, they may feel like we believe their mother is going to die, but we are going to just go through the motions of praying for her anyway. It can come off as hurtful rather than helpful.
DON’T talk about sin in your prayer. There are times when it is important to pray about sin and seek forgiveness for sin, but in a prayer for someone experiencing grief is not that time.
DON’T be afraid to pray for things beyond your belief. What I mean is that it is okay to pray for miracles to happen. Even when the situation seems grim, don’t be afraid to pray for healing and change. God may not work the miracle exactly as we prayed for it, but God may nevertheless work a miracle in that situation. And as the saying goes, “It never hurts to ask.”
So, what DO’S and DON’TS would you add? What stupid prayers have people prayed for you? I’d love to hear your stories and your comments.