Have We Forgotten to Love Our Neighbor?

Words by Al Blanton

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Matthew 5:4

I have become close friends with Grief.

My mom’s unexpected passing in September 2021 has been the hardest thing I have ever endured in my 45 years on Earth. The shock, the anger, the unexpected moments when I will crumble and cry—this has been the emotional rollercoaster I’ve been on for the last year and a half.

One of the more comforting things during this time has been the people who have reached out to me or have memorialized my mom in various ways. Without question, the comfort of others and the comfort of God have been what’s sustained me and gotten me through these last several excruciating months.

Many people who have reached out have those who have experienced tremendous loss in their own right. Their loving comfort reminds me of the verses in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

I am incredibly appreciative of those who have shown up when I needed them most.

Conversely, it has been difficult for me not to be hurt by the lack of response from some. My wife has been super helpful in encouraging me not to think about how a person should or should not respond to tragic events, but instead try to show grace and forgiveness despite a person’s response. It’s been hard because the silence and lack of response are hurtful.

Which begs the question, “Why don’t we reach out?”

Covid gave us a convenient excuse not to show up for funerals or visitations. Some people got out of the habit of going. Others are so busy that it slips their mind, and others don’t reach out because they don’t know what to say. One person put it this way, “When someone else is grieving, they just don’t want to get too close to the fire.”

While that may be true, I believe that isn’t a good excuse for not reaching out or showing up. Can we conclude that fear, then, is a driving force in this decision? 

People say, “Well, I just don’t go to funerals or visitations.” Well, why not?

In many situations, we are afraid of what we might have to say if we do show up or reach out to grieving people. Here’s the thing: you don’t have to worry about what you need to say. Just the fact that you reached out or showed up is enough. (If you are really worried about what to say, say, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” and let that be it. There’s no need to go into a long soliloquy or offer remarkable words of wisdom. Your presence and sympathy are enough.)

Yes, Covid has given us an excuse. Still, I believe more broadly, it has caused us to forget about loving our neighbor—Jesus’s second greatest commandment (Matthew 22:39).

I’m going to say it: in many ways, we are not loving one another well.

Only a few years ago, when someone in the South died, dozens of people would show up at their family’s front door with food. Casseroles were the comfort food for the grieving. When someone died, you baked. You showed up.

You loved your neighbor.

Casseroles and showing up at someone’s doorstep have become things of the past. What happened?

Today, people are suffering and dying in droves. Death is amplified. Funeral homes and flower shops are doing record business. Obituary columns are filled with people of all ages.

We have a deep need for love and to love, and when we fail to love, our cup is left empty.

Church, let us not forget how important it is to reach out to those who are grieving. Let us not forget our responsibility to respond to Jesus’s words in Matthew, to comfort those who mourn, and to love our neighbor.

May we be more attentive and alert to the needs of others.

Believe me, we need you. WL

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