How to Disciple Someone Through Grief (Disciple: Be One, Make One Podcast)

In a broken world, loss and grief are sadly unavoidable. In this episode of the Disciple: Be One, Make One Podcast, host Ethan Jasso chats with his friend Norman Hubbard about how even grief and loss can lead us to a deep experience of Jesus. Norman also gives practical ideas of how to disciple someone through grief. 

Transcript Excerpt from the “Grief & Discipleship” Podcast Episode: 

Norman: When my son was three years old, he started spiking fevers and we didn’t know what was going on. We took him to the pediatrician in a small town in Alabama. We see God’s hand in this now because right away, this pediatrician suspected that our son might be dealing with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), which is a fairly rare condition. It’s just rheumatoid arthritis, but it happens in children rather than the elderly.

Sure enough, she was spot on with her diagnosis. The thing about JRA is that it’s not curable, but treatable, like adult rheumatoid arthritis.

Of course as a young parent, you’re trying to wrap your mind around an unexpected diagnosis. It seemed like fevers and we thought, surely it’s just a virus. Instead, it turned into a little over three-year process of helping our three year old with extremely painful inflamed joints, where at times he couldn’t get out of bed. At three, you can’t understand what’s going on.

Both my late wife, Katie, and I would say that’s where our fake or floral picture of what the future looked like while walking with God got set aside. This was replaced with a much more realistic version of what it looked like to walk through life with God in a broken and fallen world. This was one of the most painful experiences we had ever been through. It’s hard to see a child suffer.

Years later, Katie lived with cancer. She was diagnosed with cancer in her mid 30s. It was breast cancer at an early stage—caught really early. We were hopeful with the diagnosis and the treatment she went through. However, she was one of the statistics where the cancer recurred and then had a third diagnosis where the cancer metastasized. That was seven years for us living with a lot of uncertainty about the future. Katie died from cancer after her third diagnosis.

Probably many people listening have experienced continuously praying for God to do something, and He says, “No.” You ask God, “What sense is there in the death of somebody who loves You, has stayed faithful to You, and has children at home?” This is a test of your willingness to keep trusting God even when you can’t figure out why He’s doing what He’s doing.

We always say experience is a good teacher—it’s not. Experience is not a good teacher; experience is not a teacher. You’ve never had an experience that has interpreted itself to you. Experience can’t teach you anything. You or the people around you are the ones who interpret the significance of the experiences you go through.

This is where God and the Word of God come in. It’s not like experiences of difficulty, pain, or suffering tell me anything. I’m telling myself what these things mean. Am I a trustworthy source to interpret the significance of these things? Or will I look to God and let Him tell me why all of these things are happening or at least tell me who He is in light of all that’s going on?

How To Disciple Someone Through Grief

Norman: Typical of the culture of the ancient Near East, as soon as Job’s friends found out about the devastation that Job had experienced, they showed up. They came to him and sat silently with him as he wept and mourned.

Then things kind of went bad when they started trying to explain to him why all of this terrible stuff had happened to him. I would say stick to doing the first part of what Job’s friends did for anyone who’s suffering.

Show up and continue to do so. For those who have lost a loved one, they tend to have a lot of people rally around them initially, but then very few stay with them over the months ahead, when there’s a lot of emptiness. Showing up to be with people is important.

What Spiritual Practices Help Someone Through Grief

Norman:

1. Spend extended time alone with God, especially in times of grief. When God is the last person you want to talk to, it’s probably a good idea to choose to go sit alone with Him. This way you have no other alternative except to talk to Him and perhaps listen to Him. It’s a very neglected discipline.

Being alone with God is one time you can say, “I am not trying to do anything; I’m trying to be God’s child. I’m trying to face Him, though I feel He’s hurt me or I’m angry with Him.”

There have been multiple times when I have resolved to spend extended time alone with God and I can’t. In those moments, I would say don’t beat yourself up. Try again next week. Trust that God is with you and He’s for you.

2. Memorize and meditate on Scripture — both individually and with a group. I started this by myself and then joined a few friends in memorizing through the book of Psalms. We take a psalm a month, and commit it to memory. When the psalm is long, we take a stanza and memorize that.

The practice of meditating deeply on Scripture has been really important for me.

3. Stay in community. When going through grief, I could easily isolate myself from people. It’s easier to not have to explain what I’m thinking, feeling, or how I’m doing because half the time I didn’t know. Resolving to stay in community, even when I didn’t want to be around people, was a discipline I needed.

Since my tendency is toward isolation, I needed to ensure that I was in community. There are some people whose tendency would be exactly the opposite. That group of people may need to make the opposite decision of drawing aside to be alone.

Knowing your tendencies and fostering and choosing habits accordingly will keep your mind and heart healthy.

Disciple: Be One, Make One Podcast

Disciple: Be One, Make One is a podcast for everyday followers of Jesus who want to grow as disciples and learn to help others do the same. The goal for each episode is to bring clarity, inspiration, and practical help to the calling of making disciples. 

Join us as we hear the stories of people who have grasped the vision of discipleship and given their lives to it. Learn how God has led them on a path of sacrifice and joy, confusion and trust, as they discovered that the cost of discipling others is worth the price.

Comments:

  1. Thanks for these words now that I’m going through the lost my son to multimyleoama cancer after a two year battle and gone home to be the Lord and not know how to deal with this feeling as

  2. Encouragement! Thank you. My husband ha metastatic brain cancer we’ve been battling a year. Have to know God is always with me and I’m not alone! ♥️

    1. Karen, lifting you in prayer. It is a tough season (I went through it for 5 years with my husband). No one else can fully take the place of what God has called you to, but you are NOT alone. He will help you. This article was excellent and YOU are leaning into God fully. He will give you what you need for each day. Praying for you and trusting in the Lord’s strength and help for you and your husband.

  3. I miss you and I love you Norm. You were such a blessing to me and I know how hard it all was. God used you and your experiences to show all of us what grace and peace look like in the midst of terrible things like this.

  4. Norman made some very helpful comments here. After almost a 3 year year battle, my husband lost the cancer battle and went home to Jesus. It was hard to want to continue living, but Jesus is our Good Shepherd and HE led me on one day at a time.

    Christian friends were helpful when they called to ask me to help with projects like feeding the homeless and delivering food for “Meals on Wheels”. You realize that if we are still here, God has work for us to do.

    Taking a Griefshare class was helpful too. It is based on a lot of scripture.

  5. Thanks. Great foundational disciplines, in times of grief or not, but certainly more relevant and important when grieving!

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