I know that dreams are largely a conglomeration of your thoughts and experiences throughout the previous few days, but I also know that the Lord does sometimes speak in dreams. For myself personally, I find that at times I tend to have insights and understanding in my dreams. I do not know if this is just a natural process of the mind detoxing and problem solving of if it is a supernatural process the Lord uses in my life. Whatever the case may be, I make no claims to receive special revelations whatsoever in dreams.
Last night I had a very enlightening dream. I did not wake up terrified, but I woke with a better understanding of those who are grieving. In my dream my wife died or more properly had recently died. The dream did not focus on her death or funeral but on my grieving her loss. I do not know that I have ever had a more vivid dream. The emotional pain was so intense that when I awoke I literally thought that I might have been experiencing heart problems in my sleep that caused the dream. If my dream is anywhere close to some people’s reality, I can see how someone could literally die from a broken heart.
I have experienced a lot of death in my life, but I have never lost a sibling, parent, spouse, or child. I know that the grief experienced from the loss of someone so close is far different than any other grief. As a pastor I have counseled many people who are grieving such losses, but I have never experienced it personally. If last night was anything close to the real thing, I have a profoundly better understanding of what they experience in real life.
In my dream the emotional pain was intense and unending. It never abated no matter what I was doing; it was always present in everything and in every conversation. It was so intense that I felt like I was hyperventilating; if you had asked me to take a deep breath I do not think that I would have been capable of it. The closest thing that I could relate it to was having heart problems a few years back. It was intense, painful, and debilitating. Here is the thing though, it was only a dream. I woke up to find my wife sleeping peacefully beside me.
For many people today, the nightmare did not end when they woke up. The pain is still there and even more intense and real than it was in my dream. If you told them to take a deep breath and calm down, they wouldn’t look at you like you are crazy. They are in too much pain to even respond. At a certain point the pain becomes an all consuming numbness.
In my dream I talked with a man in our church who had recently lost his wife. I asked him if the pain ever went away; he only replied that you learn to live with it. I remember wondering how anyone could “live with it;” the pain was so intense that I could barely move. The thought of going through life day after day without the pain subsiding was overwhelming and seemed impossible. How could any human being do this?
My reason for writing this is to draw your attention to those around you who have experienced great loss. They are bearing a pain that you cannot see or understand. The pain is constant, and it never subsides. They have simply learned to live with it. Their grief is a constant companion. Like someone who has lost a leg they have relearned to walk, but every step is a reminder of their loss. They never get over it.
Please remember this as you relate to widows, widowers, and grieving parents. Do not expect them to get over it. Do not force a time table on them. The pain is just as real today as it was the day of the funeral. It has not subsided. Yes, they have learned to walk again and laugh again, but the pain still persists. Like Jacob, they now walk with a permanent limp. Everything they do reminds them of their loss.
Be compassionate even if you do not understand. They may not want to talk about it; they may never tire of talking about it. Your job is not to fix the problem. Your job is to be there in the darkness with them. Offer words of encouragement, but do not place demands on them. Telling a grieving person to get over it is like telling a paralyzed person to walk. They simply cannot do it.
In my dream I became an alcoholic. This part of the dream floored me. I have never tasted alcohol, and the smell of beer makes me want to puke. However, the pain was so consuming that I had to find an escape, so I became an alcoholic. Even in the dream I was making excuses about how I was not really an alcoholic; I just needed something to take the edge off of the pain.
Maintain a close relationship with your grieving friends. Pain makes people do things that they would never dream of doing. Many grieving people have succumbed to alcohol, adultery, drug abuse, atheism, or even suicide. This is a real danger, and they need you to be there for them to keep them from these pitfalls.
Only Jesus Christ can heal the grieving heart, and He only does it in His time. However, He has left us on this earth to literally be His body. We are to be present with those who are grieving. We must be in prayer for them and surround them with His love. Please be patient and compassionate with those who are grieving. They need all the time, love, and compassion you can give. Even if you cannot understand the pain or take away the pain, you can be present with them and have compassion on them in their pain.
Job wanted a friend that would sit and listen to him. He wanted someone who would speak words of encouragement and tell him that God would come through for him. He needed someone to tell him that God loved him and had not forsaken him. God was not punishing him for his sin. This is why Job said to his friends,
Miserable comforters are ye all. Shall vain words have an end? or what emboldeneth thee that thou answerest? I also could speak as ye do: if your soul were in my soul’s stead, I could heap up words against you, and shake mine head at you. But I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the moving of my lips should assuage your grief.Job 16:2-5
Be the friend that Job craved. Be the friend that speaks a word of encouragement and listens to the grief. Listen far more than you speak, and when you speak make sure that it is words of encouragement and comfort. You cannot take away the pain, but you can walk through the valley with your grieving friend.