Many of our favorite television shows feature characters who live in small, close-knit communities. Consider Mayberry, N.C., where Andy Griffith took Opie fishing and fixed Barney’s blunders, or Dillon, Texas, where everyone showed up on a Friday night to watch the local high school football team in Friday Night Lights.
We love these idealistic towns where everyone knows one another. We romanticize the local diner where the waitress knows your order before you place it. In these fictional communities, neighbors help one another clean up after storms, keep a watchful eye on children playing in the cul-de-sac, and bring each other a batch of muffins—just because.
While the small towns on television are fictional, there is a place in real life where we find help and support when we need it. There’s a flesh-and-blood community to which we can turn when the storms of life crash in on us and threaten to pull us under. There’s a group of people who come alongside us in our grief and suffering and mourn with us.
This community is the church.
A Community in Christ
The church is different from a close-knit community or neighborhood. The church is not made of bricks and mortar like the building we call a “church” on the corner of Main Street. It is not designed by an architect or constructed by a builder. A church community doesn’t consist of tree-lined streets, parks, or the local coffee shop. Rather, the church community is made up of people, and it is created and built by God Himself.
The Bible uses a number of metaphors to describe this community, the church. One metaphor is that the church is like a human body. Just as a body is made up of many parts, so is the church. Just as each part has a unique and necessary function, so does each member in the church. And just as the whole body is affected when one part of the physical body is hurt or injured, so do we all hurt when a member of our church body hurts (1 Cor. 12:12–27). We are so united to one another through the common blood of our Savior that another believer’s pain becomes our own. That’s why Paul instructed the church in Rome to “mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15 NIV).
As believers united to Christ and to one another, we mourn together. We mourn in community.
Mourning in Community
Mourning together was a common practice in ancient times. The book of Job describes Job’s friends as sitting with him in dust and ashes for seven days after Job lost nearly everything he owned and loved. In our world today, we often don’t know what to do when someone is mourning. Another person’s grief makes us uncomfortable. Seeing someone cry out in sorrow is like seeing his soul naked and bare. The mourning of others reminds us of our own suffering and loss. It reminds us that life is short. Seeing someone lose control makes us fear that we’ll lose ours. What was common for Job and his friends makes us uncomfortable.
Sometimes we express our discomfort with another’s grief by trying to distract them from their pain. We say things we think will make them feel better: “Everything’s going to be OK; you’ll see.” We try to lighten the mood with pithy sayings about making lemons into lemonade.
But biblical mourning is different. To mourn with our brothers and sisters in Christ means entering into their pain and sorrow. It means feeling their loss as though it were our own (Heb. 13:3; 1 Cor. 12:26). It’s a side-by-side activity, not something done from afar. After all, that is what our Savior did for us. He entered our pain and sorrow by leaving the throne of heaven and taking on human flesh. He experienced the loss, rejection, sorrow, sickness, and temptation we all experience in this life. He bore our sin, sorrow, and shame for us when He died on the cross for our sins.
When we mourn in community with other believers, we are following the example of our Savior.
Mourning and Presence
Because we are often uncomfortable with suffering, we might avoid Christians who are mourning. We might stay away because we don’t know what to say or do. But by not acknowledging their loss, we hurt them even more. The truth is, we don’t need to say anything. What the hurting need most is a listening ear and the presence of someone who cares for them (Job 2:11–13).
Hurting Christians need someone who will sit with them and hear their story of loss rather than trying to fill the silence with statements we think will make things better. As Proverbs 25:20 says, “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.” The Bible doesn’t say to avoid those who mourn or to attempt to cheer them up. It says to mourn with those who mourn.
Mourning and Faithful Friendship
The reasons someone mourns are many. How long a person mourns varies as well. For some, they may suffer their entire life. To mourn well with those who hurt, we need to stick with them for the long hall. We need to show steadfast love and patience, remembering God’s steadfast love for us in Christ.
Often, we think a person should “get over” their loss and sorrow after a certain period of time. In reality, no one ever “gets over” suffering; they simply learn to live with it. And more often than not, a person’s loss and sorrow will be pierced and pricked by reminders and other events that reopen the wound. To mourn with one who mourns means being a constant and reliable friend who gives space and time for the mourner to grieve.