When the anticipation, joy, and hope of being a parent are unexpectedly met with loss, the depth of pain can be unbearable. The isolation, confusion, mental anguish, and spiritual questions can often send a person into despair. When people you love are impacted by infertility, miscarriage, or infant death, knowing how to respond is extremely complex and sensitive. It can be very difficult to navigate such situations, and the fear of misstepping can, at times, paralyze us from entering in with our friends. We must not avoid these friends! We don’t need to respond with tidy answers or shallow platitudes; rather, we need to move toward them and lift them up thoughtfully and prayerfully.
In this short article, it is absurd to think that we could address such monumental and tender topics as these in a comprehensive way. However, having walked with many friends through this and gathering their insights of how their community carried them through this (as well as how God came near to them in their brokenheartedness), I humbly share these thoughts with you.
Some things to consider:
- Everyone is unique. The complexity of this type of grief and suffering is extremely individualized. Everyone’s journey is different. This is impacted by many variables including (but not limited to): the circumstances around the loss, the nature of the loss, their beliefs about God and His ways, their personality (private/open, verbal processor/internal processor, and so forth). We must be sensitive to these things and suspend generalizations and assumptions about what this might be like for them.
- Grief is not linear. It comes in waves—one day you are OK and think you have moved on, and the next day you are filled with anger or despair or envy at the sight of a pregnant woman or a young child. We must allow for people’s timelines and expressions of grief to be varied and winding. Time is a healer, but the loss never goes away.
- Know your relationship and role in the person’s life. In order to discern what is yours to say or do, we must be thoughtful about what our place has been in the person’s life and let that guide what our role might be in this critical season. Hearing from the right person, who loves you and knows you and holds out hope for you (not false hope but true hope), can be a healing balm. If we are not close to people, we may not be the ones to advise them but rather commit to pray for them, write a note with a prayer, or send a text that you are praying for them. Nancy Guthrie’s book I’m Praying for You is a helpful resource.
- Seek to empathize. Keep in mind that “pain is pain” and therefore you can empathize and connect with pain even if you have not specifically experienced the circumstance. You can tap into what suffering you have experienced and imagine what it might feel like to be them. Second Corinthians 1:3-7 exhorts us that God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
- Be sensitive in celebratory events. When other friends in your circle announce their pregnancies or have celebratory events like baby showers or baby dedications, be thoughtful to check in with your suffering friend. Let her know you are thinking about her and are sensitive to this being potentially hard. Be thoughtful with the language used in these public moments, with an awareness of the pain that might coexist with the joy in the room. We can sincerely and carefully hold both sorrow and joy at the same time. As friends to both those in the bliss of new motherhood and those longing for motherhood, we can, with God’s help, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15).
- Make connections. If you haven’t gone through the experience but you know someone who has, connect them with each other. Hearing from people who have been through a similar loss—who can empathize and speak the language as well as share what it’s like on the other side or further down the road—can bring reassurance and great comfort.
- Remember the husband. We oftentimes focus on the woman in these situations (in checking in and providing resources) and forget that the man is going through his own journey of grief and loss. Be thoughtful not to ignore his journey and needs. Encourage the men in his life to enter into this.
- Encourage with the Word of God (but not with trite or lofty advice). When you prayerfully discern that the opportunity feels appropriate and your relationship is such that it would be welcomed, share with your friend words of hope, comfort, and truth from the word. Some that have been helpful to my friends who have suffered in these ways include:
Read Mark 14:32-36.
Jesus knows grief and pain. When praying in the garden before His death, He was deeply grieved, yet He trusted His Father.
Read Romans 5:1-5.
We know that suffering can produce good things in our lives—therefore we can rejoice in hope and in our afflictions.
Read I Peter 1:1-7.
Fruit can be developed through our pain, and this can result in His glory.
Read 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.
We must seek a longer view. Here is the verse in the NIV translation: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Read Psalm 146.
He is a God who sees. Put your trust in God. He watches over and lifts up the righteous.
Read Lamentations 3:22-24.
God is infinitely merciful and faithful. Therefore, we can wait on Him and put our hope in Him.
- Listen more than you talk. Being a good friend in a situation as complex as this is marked with patient, loving, and non-judgmental listening. Sit in the pain with them, breathing deeply, listening attentively, and praying for the Holy Spirit to comfort them.
Author and teacher Nancy Guthrie has written several books that are extremely helpful for those going through this type of loss and developing a theology of suffering.
Author and pastor Tim Keller’s book, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, is a tremendous resource as well.
Julie Hunt is an Associate Professor of Social Work and Director of Field Education at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. She is wife to Dave Hunt, a worship director and wood worker, and mother to a college aged son and two teenaged daughters. She also enjoys walking, baking, reading, food blogging, thrifting, and enjoying time with friends.