I’ve known Jean for just shy of 2 decades, yet in the last 6 months, our relationship has transformed despite the 200 miles that now separate us. Several years ago, Jean suffered a devastating and unexpected loss, and the woman who remains on this side of widowhood is very different from the married woman I met at church all those years ago. These days, I can describe Jean with one word: Encourager.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11
Throughout the long months of my recovery, through various complications and an endless stream of medical disappointments, my friend Jean has sprinkled little words of hope, encouragement, and inspiration.
Recently I thanked her for the way she has ministered to my heart through her words, and she confessed that sometimes she doesn’t “know what to say or how it will come across.” Yet she never fails to say something… anything… as a way of communicating, “I see you, friend; I hear you. You are not alone.”
Jean shared with me that it is because of her own suffering that she has learned to be present with others through her words. These are the things she “learned from grief.”
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (emphasis added)
It is an interesting reality that through suffering, people draw closer or people fade away. I learned this lesson at the age of ten. My mother died of breast cancer when I was in the 5th grade. Ten-year-olds don’t know how to manage the big work of grief, and some adults don’t know how either. My best friend, with whose heart my own seemed to share a beat, suddenly disappeared after my mother’s funeral. Her mother didn’t know how to cope with grief and didn’t know how to teach her daughter to be a friend in the midst of grief. In the passing of my mother, I also lost my best friend. Days of silence turned into weeks, weeks into months. More than 30 years have now passed but not a word between us. I was the same little girl who loved to roller skate, giggle, swim, and have sleep overs. I was the same but different.
Nine years ago, I suffered another devastating loss of a loved one. In the same way as the loss of my mother all those years earlier, I experienced people drawing close and people fading away. There were two women in my life, at that time, who called me nearly every day. They understood life and loss enough to realize that I was the same person, but for that season, I was different, and the care they provided could impact the way I managed my grief work. They understood that I needed intense love and support so that I could work through the complications of loss and come out the other side, the same person but changed.
This season of recovering from medical trauma and the resulting complications, has been similar. Friends and family have drawn close or faded away. I am the same person, but I am different.
I still need the women in my life to encourage and inspire my walk with God and my roles as wife, mother, and employee.
I still need my pastor to be my wise counsel and challenge my framework around how God’s word is alive and active in my life (Hebrews 4:12).
I need my siblings to check in and ask the tough personal questions about details that are delicate regarding my health.
I need my co-worker who asks me at least once a week, “How are you really doing today?”
I need the dear grandmotherly woman from church who regularly sends me cards in the mail with Scriptures.
This season has been another reminder to me that my words have the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). One of the many redemptive purposes of suffering is so that I can comfort others with the comfort I have received from Christ (2 Corinthians 1:4).
My words need not be eloquent; if I fret about what to say, I may say nothing at all. My words need not be my own; I can share an inspirational quote or a verse from God’s word. My words can be in a text, over the phone, or as I pass someone in the hall. I just need to say something…. anything!
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24