Some of the best advice I've heard about how to deal with people who are grieving is to walk softly around a broken heart. Brokenhearted people need hope, and hope is a process, as we see in John 20.
This chapter tells the story of a woman who was in deep distress and grief: Mary Magdalene came to Jesus' empty tomb and thought someone had stolen His body. But Jesus came along and, through a simple and loving process, brought her immense hope. Let's look at four principles from this text about how to approach someone who's experiencing sorrow:
1. Crying is natural. "Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping" (v. 11). Mary's tears flowed freely—the Greek word for weep means to wail loudly—because crying is natural. God designed us to cry. In fact, it is unhealthy to suppress your tears when you go through grief and loss. Jesus Himself wept (see John 11:35), and He takes note of all the times we weep (see Psalm 56:8).
2. Questions are helpful. The angels who were sitting in the tomb asked Mary, "'Woman, why are you weeping?' She said to them, 'Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.' Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?'" (vv. 13-15).
I've discovered that when a person is suffering or brokenhearted, asking them the right questions can help redirect their thinking and raise them to a higher level of faith and trust. Here, it was as if Jesus was saying, "Mary, could there be another explanation for an empty tomb other than the body was stolen—like a resurrection?"
3. Comprehension is gradual. Mary incorrectly assumed Jesus was the gardener (see v. 15), but then He said to her, "'Mary!' She turned and said to Him, 'Rabboni!' (which is to say, Teacher)" (v. 16). How did she recognize Jesus? She knew His voice (see John 10:4, 11) because she had been in His presence long enough to recognize it. In the same way, when you spend time listening to the voice of God in Scripture, you will come to recognize His voice. Mary's comprehension was gradual, but she eventually got it.
4. Commission is needful. "Jesus said to her, 'Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, 'I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.' Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her" (vv. 17-18).
Giving a simple task to someone who is depressed or brokenhearted can help restore their hope. Sorrow is consuming and energy-absorbing, but when a person in that situation has something to do, it elevates them to a place where they feel purposeful and useful instead of hopeless and listless.
The overarching Scripture that comes to mind in all this is Psalm 30:5: "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning." Allow someone who is being buffeted by trials to emote, but then always redirect their thinking from the temporal to the eternal. I pray that God would help you do this as His ambassador in the world—that you might, like Jesus, walk softly around broken hearts and rekindle hope where there is none.