Spiritually Speaking

Question: Five years ago my husband and I moved into this most welcoming neighborhood. We just found out that a neighbor’s father died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack. We neighbors have organized food for at least two weeks. Most of us who could attend the father’s memorial did. Our challenge is what to say to someone who is grieving. Neither of us have had a sudden loss like this. I know our actions show we care but in my heart I’d like to have a comforting conversation with them instead of just saying, “I’m sorry.” Suggestions are welcome. ~ Kindhearted Neighbor

Dear Kindhearted Neighbor,

Helping people grieve can be one of the most gratifying and challenging aspects of the work I do. Over the years, I have gained (some) wisdom in how I approach grief, personally and professionally. I am grateful there are those like you who willingly enter into others’ grief to provide support.

First, understand that grief often comes in waves surrounded by mixed emotions like shame, regret, relief and comfort. Because of that, those who grieve may genuinely answer, “I’m doing okay” when asked. Checking in is important but allow whatever reply (or even no reply) to be enough to either prompt a follow up or let it be.

Grief takes time, especially with a sudden loss. Likely a year of missed birthdays and holidays can prompt reminders about loss. If you are aware of any of these special celebrations, a simple “thinking about you during this time” is fine. Promises made like “It gets better” or (even worse “heaven must have needed another angel” or other clichés do more harm than good for those in the midst of grief. Many times a faithful presence is all that is needed.

My mother died suddenly five years ago. There are times when it still hurts. Finding occasions to talk about her, sharing a fond memory, making a dessert that she liked helps me to allow her memory to be a blessing. Rather than talking about my grief as the primary topic, talking about the loss I am grieving is more therapeutic. Perhaps you can allow the conversations you hold move in that direction rather than focusing solely on the emotions that are being felt.

We often share grief with others but our culture tends to try to put on a happy face, to solve the “problem” of grief. Instead, enter into these conversations with the perspective that grief is a gift. It allows us to know our love for others remains powerful even in their absence. As long as that grief does not become destructive, we can make friends with it. And often others help us to experience that presence of faithfulness. Thank you for your willingness to be that sort of friend and neighbor!

Rev. Kyle Sears


Dear Kindhearted Neighbor,

God’s love is flowing through you and your husband. Reaching out with food, a tender hug and a gentle word are always appreciated. People feel the love and care from others during a time of tremendous loss. It helps a lot. When something very sad happens to people we know it is difficult to find words of comfort. Even though we know, as human beings, loss is part of our physical time on earth what do we say to the person who has lost a loved one? No matter whether the loss is sudden or expected, it is always heartbreaking for them. The time right after a loved one’s death is always overwhelming. We are caught up in the whirlwind of so much to take care of, so many people to talk with and so many details and decisions to make. During this very difficult part of our lives all we really want to do is cry, sleep and hide. When someone is going through a loved one’s passing, people often talk about closure, getting past this trauma, etc. They are trying to help but being so vulnerable at this moment makes the idea of moving on feel like pressure. It feels as though you are turning your back on your loved one.

You will know what to say and when. God will give you the right time and the words. The best thing we can do at the beginning of helping anyone through times like this is to remind them to be gentle with themselves. Only time and the presence of God bring release of sorrow. Our belief in God’s love gives us courage – not by closing the door but by opening it. We know through our faith that Divine Presence holds us, surrounds us in love and lifts us up throughout our whole life. In both, in times of happiness and sorrow, God is always present. Sometimes the loss is even worse a year later. The noise has diminished and we are left with the silence of our own thoughts. With encouragement and time, sorrow is gradually replaced by knowing love is forever. When the time is right, for a deeper conversation with them, either today or a year from now, invite your neighbors to share something meaningful that they shared with their father. Is there a star in the night sky, the rising light of the sun in the morning or an object that their father always treasured? Perhaps a song or a dance? Was there something they did together with their father that was a wonderful moment in both their lives? Sharing those moments and thanking God together for the blessings that this beloved person brought into their life brings comfort. It reminds all of us that love is forever.

Michelle Gillette


Question: My friend and I organized a dinner for a local organization. We had about 60 guests. As we were having dinner, a homeless man came to the door and asked if we could give him some food. We brought him in, sat him at a table and gave him food and coffee. One of the couples asked if they could sit with him. That warmed our hearts because at first when we brought him in we had many inquiring looks as in, “Why are you doing this?”

My friends and I attend the same church and take Jesus’ words to heart: “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me.” By the end of the evening, we found that the man’s entire family had died in a plane crash, his wife and two adult children. He said he was so broken he couldn’t work. When his money ran out and he couldn’t pay his mortgage or had the energy to find out what he could do to keep his house, he began living on the streets. The couple who were sitting with him shared his story, with his permission, to the other guests. Offers of help came from many of the guests. Three couples, though, walked out. We feel in our hearts we did the right thing, even though those six individuals disagreed.

Now, we’re in a quandary. We had no intention of causing trouble for the organization. Perhaps we should withdraw our membership? There will be a discussion about what we did at the next meeting. ~ Our Brother’s Keeper


Dear Our Brother’s Keeper,

Doing the right thing, despite adversity, takes an enormous amount of courage. However, the loveliest part of the act of kindness that you bestowed upon the homeless man is that you didn’t even think twice about offering what you could. That’s an actual act of selflessness and humility allowing, without question, your faith to take seriously the mercy and grace that our Heavenly Father freely gives. And the impact of your kindness for this man generated others to respond in kind rendering an additional outpouring of love and care for a man at the depth of despair.

Living out our faith is often fraught with criticism. However, Scripture reminds us that we are not of this world (John 18:36) and that sometimes the way is rough (John 16:33). We also know that we will overcome the world because the spirit of God lives inside each of us as believers and that He is greater than any adversity we might face (1 John 4:4).

There is an undeniable sadness for those who left the gathering for which we may face myriad emotions. Perhaps there was a twang of anger, maybe guilt or condemnation, or maybe even questioning the validity of your choice to entertain the stranger (Hebrews 13:2). As much as we’re called to support those in need and the lost, we are likewise called to extend grace and thoughtfulness to those who sidestep the calling, blessing those who condemn us (Matt 5:44; Romans 12:14). We are blessed because we bless (Ps 128:1).

I would submit that leaving the organization is premature at this point. Communication is generally a better first step. When you discuss this situation, my hope is that the other group members will hear your heart and understand why you invited that man in for a meal (Proverbs 1:3-6). Of course, there’s the possibility that the action goes against protocol but I believe change happens when rules are questioned and reviewed.

Perhaps that other couple who supported you would be willing to stand with you as a show of solidarity. If the outcome hastens your departure from the group, that would be a sad day. On the other hand, leaving may also be a way to move you on to a greater calling where your actions may have more impact. Prayers for discernment will definitely be beneficial (Phil 1:9).

Blessings to you for answering the call to action, standing in the gap for a brother in need and modeling faith-in-action. Hopefully, the connections made that day provided a path to healing for the stranger to whom you ministered. Your choice reminds me of this passage in Scripture: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” 1 Corinthians 15:8 (NKJV).

Continued blessings for your servants’ hearts and the work He will do through you!

Be well & be blessed!



Lucinda Guarino lucindagurino1@gmail.com


Dear Our Brother’s Keeper,

Well, I think you did exactly as Jesus would have done and which we are all called upon to do. On the one hand, the cost truly was minimal … so minimal one could hardly be upset over any expense your club may have incurred. What was it? A place at the table; a little food and coffee; a little attention; a kind, sympathetic ear and a little donation to help him get by for a while on the streets. The cost was not great. Yet, there is no price that can be put on such a great, kind, generous and compassionate gift. It was an act of love in its purest sense. It gave without asking for a return.

I would add my thank you for making the gentleman feel, for a moment, as if he was once again a valued and worthwhile human being. On the other hand, there appears to be a price you seem to be faced with in light of the couples who took offense to it all. If it is of any comfort, Jesus was always offending people, too. There is a saying that “the one who gets upset is the one with the problem.” Some people do not take well to challenging surprises.

Since I take it this was not a church group, this clearly was not something they were expecting or prepared to encounter. But that is the thing about spiritual lessons. They can appear at the most unexpected and sometimes inconvenient moments in our lives. They challenge us on an existential level. Some rise to it like the ones who asked to sit with the gentlemen. Others leave angry and offended. Even though you are still to face their ire over your act of kindness, do not think that the lesson for them was wasted. The roots of any seed grow unseen. In time it bears fruit. You may think the gift you gave was to the homeless man alone. In my opinion, there were six others who received a gift that day. It was a gift meant for them, too. They will struggle to accept it.

Instead of fear and anger over their reaction and forthcoming attempt to hold you to account for their taking offense, we (and by that I mean our readers, too) should hold out our compassion for them as well. We should understand and accept the limitations of others as well as our own and do our best to meet them with understanding and forgiveness as we would hope others would offer us when we err. It is not easy to be a human being, which is why Jesus, perfectly aware of our limitations as humans, was always ready to forgive and pardon even when they hung Him on the cross. His last words were for the forgiveness of human kind. That too was an act of love in its purest sense, a gift given with no expectation of a return.

As to your upcoming inquisition, please don’t be afraid. You are protected. You cannot be harmed. You are surrounded by the goodness, grace and protection of the Divine. If ever you feel challenged with any fear over this please read Psalm 23 whenever you need comfort. Those words are your truth and reality in this matter.

Anthony Kelson, RScP