To comfort – and be comforted

As we head into Memorial Day weekend in the United States, we’re recalling moving experiences where people supported those who served in the military and their loved ones. In this article, originally written in 2008, a Christian Science chaplain in the US Army shares how turning to God has brought inspiration that healed his own grief and empowered him to offer meaningful comfort and strength to others, too.

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As I write this article, I’m preparing to revisit the spouse of one of our soldiers who was recently killed in Iraq by a suicide bomber. In my work as a Christian Science chaplain in the United States Army, I was on the Casualty Notification Team a few mornings ago, when we had to notify her of the death of her husband.

It’s heartbreaking to see the look on the face of a spouse, when he or she realizes before you even speak why you’re there. But there can also be a feeling of hope and peace when you’re able to share even a glimpse of spiritual reality with someone dealing with grief.

In this particular case, by the end of our conversation this young woman was able to voice her conviction that her husband’s spiritual life was not over but that he continued to walk in God’s presence. And she seemed to have hope for her own future as well, even though it would be without her husband’s physical presence.

Just a few months before I entered the Army as a chaplain, my father passed away. But even as I was grieving, I felt God, who is divine Mind, assure me that my father’s life was not over. That in fact, the physical body could never contain the life of anyone. That because God, who is also divine Life, had never put life into a physical form, life could never be said to pass out of it either.

I remember being comforted and strengthened by this Bible passage: “Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (II Corinthians 4:16, 17). In the book of Revelation, John describes “a new heaven and a new earth,” and this provided me with even greater strength. In John’s vision, there is no more death, sorrow, crying, or pain. And John says that God will always be with us and we will always be His people.

This newfound conviction was helpful to me in helping others. The first morning at my new battalion, I got a chance to share this experience with one of our infantry trainees when he learned that his father had passed away suddenly in the night. I felt that I was able to provide some genuine comfort through discussing the spiritual truth of the eternal life God gives us all, which I’d felt so strongly just a few months prior.

The Apostle Paul says, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (II Corinthians 1:3, 4). When we face a difficult time, and God helps us through it, we’re then able to go help others who might be experiencing similar trials, with the same spiritual truth that helped us.

Some years later, however, I found that I was really missing my father and thinking about all of the things he would never experience – and all of the things that I would miss too, as a result. And I realized that I was still grieving about the lack of his presence with me – to offer praise, encouragement, guidance.

Then God spoke to me very clearly that He was always my eternal Father, and that He had never left me. That I was His beloved son. I realized that God had always provided the guidance I needed throughout life, moment by moment.

I felt instant relief from the great sorrow I’d been feeling. And since that time I have no longer had any lingering grief about the passing of my father. I know that his life is eternal, and that he will always reflect the God that is Life. I also know that God is providing comfort to all His children.

We can learn from Christian Science about our unbroken relationship with this loving divine Father who will never abandon us. Over the years, when I haven’t known what to say to someone who was experiencing grief, this spiritual understanding has given me much inspiration. I have literally felt God giving me just the right words that would provide comfort and strength to someone who really needed it.

And this inspiration that we receive directly from God can truly bring us an increasing measure of freedom from grief.

Adapted from an article published in the Sept. 15, 2008, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

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The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

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