As a former pastor, Rob Bell has counseled countless people struggling with loss, trauma and varying degrees of pain. But one particularly tragic story early in his career illustrates what many people need most during their heartaches, he says.
Back then, Bell was scheduled to officiate a young couple’s wedding. However, before the nuptials could take place, Bell received a phone call that the groom-to-be had been in an accident at work. The young man had died.
“It was one of those tragic, inexplicable accidents,” Bell says.
Yet, as it so often happens in the midst of trauma, the loved ones wanted an explanation. An answer. A deeper meaning. So, that same day, the grieving bride sent for Bell.
“I race over there and I pull up and there’s cars up and down the street,” Bell recalls. “I go into her parents’ house. She’s there, neighbors, friends, friends of her parents ― the house is filled. I come into the kitchen and she says, ‘Everybody out of the kitchen. Except you, Rob. Sit.’”
Alone with Bell, the bride made a pointed request.
“She says, ‘Tell me why this happened,’” Bell says.
Bell responded honestly. “I said to her, ‘I don’t know. But I do know that there’s a house full of people here who love you, and we are going to walk with you through this,’” he says.
Central to solidarity is understanding the power of silence. Rob Bell
It wasn’t an explanation, it’s still a sentiment that people in pain sometimes don’t even realize they need to hear, Bell points out.
“Oftentimes, in suffering, we look for answers when there aren’t any,” he says. “But what we’re really looking for is solidarity. Someone to walk with us.”
Offering this comfort doesn’t always have to be verbal, he adds.
“Sometimes words help, and sometimes words actually get in the way,” Bell says. “So, central to solidarity is understanding the power of silence. You come and you sit with the person. You’re there, in flesh and blood, to witness their pain. Sometimes, that’s the greatest gift you can give someone.”
Another insight about grief:
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