In none of these situations did my words have the power to make things better. I did pray and I tried to choose my words so as not to inflict any additional pain, and I tried to offer the kind of comfort that comes from knowing you're not alone in this awful situation, but my friends were still hurting. And it left me feeling frustrated and helpless and angry and sad that I could not do more.
In the aftermath, though, I'm realizing that that's okay. The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:5, "not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,who made us adequate as servants of a new covenant....". That is comforting to me because it reminds me of three truths to focus on when I feel inadequate.
- I feel inadequate because I am inadequate. I don't need to figure out how to give my friend what she needs because what she needs is not in me. I can only do what I am able and equipped to do - comfort, listen, hug, love - and that is good enough from my end. But it will not make them "better" and that's okay. I don't need to stress out about that because...
- God is adequate for my friend. I do not have what my friend needs. But God does. The walk of grief is ultimately an intensely personal and spiritual one, and while I can help guide someone by sharing my own journey and what is "normal" and where to find helpful resources, each person needs to find their own way through it. And the healing that we are seeking ultimately comes only from God, who will minister to each one in a way that meets his or her deepest and most personal needs. That is the beauty of the walk of grace and faith. And it's why prayer is so vital a ministry in itself.
- God is also adequate for me. In fact, the adequacy that is within me comes only from God and is anchored in the new covenant. And that new covenant is none other that the gospel of grace and faith in Jesus' finished work on the cross. I must be deeply connected to God through time spent in prayer and worship and the Word of God to minister to others. Otherwise, no matter how well-spoken I am, no matter how compassionate, I will be drawing from an empty well, unable to touch their deepest needs.
If you also feel inadequate to help someone who is hurting, this is what I am trying to remember to do. I am going to focus on what I can do without trying to be everything to her, without trying to "fix" her. I am going to do what I can to point her toward the One who is adequate to guide her through the journey of grief and loss. And I am going to immerse myself in God and His word, so that when I am in a situation where I am called on to minister to someone else, I have something to draw from, something that will ultimately bring about healing and wholeness for my friend and glory and praise for my Lord.