As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”“Lord, I want to see,” he replied. Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.
The gospels contain many stories of Jesus healing people, often in a variety of ways. Some he heals with his touch, some are healed by touching him, and others he heals without even being near them. In the story above, found in both Mark and Luke, we see a model of healing that works well for helping those in grief. Actually, it works well for helping anyone, but seeing this is a blog on grief, we’ll stick to this area for now.
Jesus completes three steps in this story. First, he asks the blind man what he wants. In some ways, this seems to be a silly question and you almost expect the blind man to respond, “well, what do you think I want! I’m blind!” But the question shows us that Jesus first wants to know what is most important to the blind man. Not everyone who came to Jesus came to him for themselves — it was sometimes the healing of another they sought. Jesus does not assume to know what this man’s greatest need is. He asks.
The second step Jesus does is easy to miss, but it is the most important. He listens. He asks the blind man what he seeks and he hears the answer. While this seems obvious, many of us ask questions thinking we know what the answer will be or should be, and never really hear what is needed. This is a difficult skill; it requires us to set our own assumptions aside to truly hear another needs. We are often formulating our response before the person finishes speaking, meaning we are not truly listening.
Finally, the third step that Jesus completes is to answer the man’s needs. He heals his blindness. Notice that he does not do this until asking and listening to the blind man. Many of us want to jump to the healing step, but to help others we need to make sure we know what needs to be healed. It all happens quickly in the gospel story, but the order is important.
Ask, listen, respond. When approaching those in grief this is a model to follow.
Ask the person what they need. Unlike the blind man, the grieving are not always clear about what they want. They may even respond that what they need is the return of the person they are grieving. But give them time and they will tell you what they need. In fact, the question may be what prompts them to start thinking about what they need. Ask them open-ended questions since they allow people to respond more fully.
This is the most difficult part of the process since we often think we know what the other person needs. But, like Jesus, we need to listen to the answer a person gives us. Sometimes this takes more asking until we are clear since those in grief need to work through what they need. You may need to ask many questions to find the most basic needs. Patience and the capacity to allow silence, two traits most people find difficult, are essential here.
When we hear what someone needs, then we can offer to help. Again, this sounds simple but it may be difficult since what is needed is not always easy to accomplish. Most of us want to “do” something when the response may be to do nothing. The person in grief may want nothing more than someone to be near them. Or someone to listen without offering explanations or solutions. Or someone to help them plan a funeral or sort through their loved one’s belongings. But don’t expect a checklist of needs to respond to; expect a narrative of needs you can respond to.
While the ask, listen, and respond model seems simple, each step contains its own challenges. But they are all steps on the way to helping someone heal like Jesus does.