How the Church can minister to those with sorrow not caused by death.
“I’m sorry, but I’ve fallen in love with someone else and I’m leaving.”
“Mom and Dad, I’m gay.”
“Babe, I need to let you know that I was molested as a child.”
“Mom, I don’t feel like I was really born a girl.”
These are the gut punches. The moments that completely knock the breath out of you. When your cries come from a place you never knew existed. The times you will never forget exactly where you were and what you were doing when they transpired. That unexpectedly and forever change the trajectory of your life. They alter your public identity. Suddenly you’re wife whose husband has cheated and left her for another woman. The parents of the gay kid. The spouse or parent of someone who has been molested. Or the trans girl’s mom.
We have all gone through times of deep grief. We have lost parents and grandparents. Some have lost children, siblings, or a spouse. It is these times where a church family usually rallies around us, brings food, offers to clean our houses or to do our grocery shopping, and other ways of support that helps a family get through a tragic time and lets us know they care. These times of mourning are not to be diminished in terms of depth of painfulness.
But this is not the kind of grief I want to address here. I want to talk about the kind of grief that is often overlooked, and may also be accompanied by stigma and/or whispering. And if I may be transparent, our family is currently walking through one of these dark seasons. So, if you will permit, I will make some of this personal by the occasional use of the words “I” and “WE”, because in some cases it is applicable.
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how we ought to pray, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.” Romans 8:26
I have come to a place of being able to understand this scripture in a way that one may not fully comprehend until faced with such a devastating occasion to truly grasp its meaning in a very personal way. I have been to this place. And sadly I have close friendships with other faithful believers who have been and are still in this place.
There are times when a family you may know is hit with something so dark and dreadful, even if you want to approach them with love and compassion, you may not know how. This can be true of immediate family or close friends. It can also be true of a church family. After all, how do you walk up to the door of someone who is experiencing a sorrow that you cannot relate to or that may be awkward to talk about? What do you say? It can seem such an impossible phone call or visit to make, that so many times, it is avoided altogether. Some church members may assume that others in the church are making those calls and visits, so it’ll be ok if they don’t do it this time. Or maybe it doesn’t occur to them at all. Here’s the news: In many cases, there is no one reaching out to these families. And they can feel completely isolated when they should be surrounded by love and support.
When people are left to bear grief alone it can make it all the more difficult to find their way back into the world of the living. You may ask, “The living? But no one died.” While that may be true in a physical sense, it is most certainly not true in an emotional and spiritual sense. In many ways, the things we find ourselves facing can seem worse than a death, because there is no finality or closure to the grief. There is no funeral for the loss of a child’s innocence. It is a death that is re-lived daily within the person experiencing it, sometimes for months and years with no end to the anguish in sight. In these instances, something has been ripped away that forever changes the course of life. A child’s purity is stripped from them, leading to adult sexual issues and promiscuity. An abandoned spouse’s feelings of embarrassment and the ability to trust. A parent realizing the dreams for their son or daughter will likely never happen, and having to watch them go down a destructive path throughout adulthood. Having to walk continually through this kind of perpetual nightmare is inexpressible. But going through it alone as a the member of the Body of Christ is unacceptable.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35
As a member of the Body of Christ, what should I know, and how can I show love?
• Don’t Gossip.
Know that when an incident like this happens, the grief is OVERWHELMING, FIERCE and UNRELENTING. It can feel as if we are drowning in every conceivable emotion. We can currently see no possibility of life ever being “OK” again. We certainly don’t want to tell anyone about what has happened to our family for fear of the stigma that accompanies such situations. It feels easier to just shut out the world. But eventually, people will find out. And one of the worst things we can experience is the feeling that we are likely the topic of community or church gossip. If we choose to tell others, let us do it in our time and wait until permission is given to share it for purposes of PRAYER and SUPPORT. It’s never ok to take part in a “Did you hear…” session just to satisfy a need for social affirmation.
“A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.” Proverbs 11:13
*This of course does not refer to a sinister secret, such as a crime, but to be able to keep private a confidence someone has shared as a matter of respect for them.
• We Don’t Necessarily Want to Talk About It.
If someone you know is experiencing a time of crisis, you can know IT’S OK to not talk about the situation directly. I would say in many cases, we don’t WANT to talk about it with everyone. But as believers we should be the most compassionate and caring of people when those we love are in a time of suffering. We will talk when we feel the time is right. And there are things you can do that don’t require bringing up the circumstance.
• Cook a meal or bring a pizza.
One of the kindest gestures you can make, although it can seem cliché, is to bring over a meal. And chances are, unless someone has died, no one has thought of it. It may seem trite, but trust me when I say, when someone is in the midst of a trial of this nature, it can sometimes be hard to get out of bed, much less plan and cook a meal for the family. You don’t have to mention the situation, just that you thought they might enjoy a night off from cooking.
• Send a card.
This may be the easiest thing you can do to demonstrate caring and concern. Someone taking the time to pick out a card, write in it, and mail it is a HUGE gesture, and one that is appreciated. It shows that we were on your mind. If you don’t have the address, chances are the church office will have it and make it available, especially if the secretary knows you are sending a card.
• Send a text or a DM.
Those who are at least relatively close to us have our numbers in their phones or are friends on social media. Periodically send out a text or a DM just to check how we are doing. That message may come right at a time when we need it. God has a way in His providence of doing that! Especially if you send a scripture to read, or an excerpt from a book you’re reading. I’ve had a fellow pastor’s wife send me Psalms and message me from time to time. It really does make a difference when someone reaches out, even in that small way. ( If others are like me and not a phone talker, this is a preferred way of communication! )
• Send a restaurant gift card and offer to babysit for a night out.
Not everyone can do this, but a gesture that could mean a lot would be, for those who have children, offer to keep the kiddos for an evening and send the couple out to dinner, or in the case of a newly single wife, offer to take her out to dinner for an uplifting night of conversation. ( Or better yet, get a few girls from the women’s group and take her out. Laughter really is a good medicine for the heart! * When enough time has passed and the time is right! )
Use your best judgement.
• Be discerning.
Understanding that there will be days that are harder than others, know that if we are being unusually quiet or stand-offish at church, it may be because it’s been a hard week. If you notice behavior that seems like we may not be doing ok, send that text.
If you know the person well, you know if they are a hugger or not. ( Some people aren’t! ) Pull her off to the side and just give a hug. Or, even if it’s weeks later, cook that meal and bring it over. Remember, hard weeks come even a year or more later, depending on what may be currently happening in the lives of those involved.
• Pray for us.
Pray for us and LET US KNOW you are praying for us. This is probably the most meaningful and effective kindness that can be offered. You may not know all the specifics of the story. You may not know exactly what to pray for. That’s ok. But pray fervently just the same. Because God knows. If you DO know, pray specifically. And often!
This blog article doesn’t include biblical ways for families to make it through to the other side of a devastating blow. We aren’t there yet. We are still figuring that out one day at a time with God’s help. And the encouragement and prayers of family and friends. But I do know that the pain has eased a bit. At least for now it’s not QUITE as hard and some days are even good days. We have had some counseling, both professionally and ministerially. Who knows what next week will bring? Maybe in time that blog will be written. I’m sure it will be. Our God is a God who sees and One Who heals hearts. As of now, the stitching has begun to happen ever so slightly, although there will likely always be a part that won’t be completely whole until I see His face. Although this has been the most difficult season of our lives, we trust Him. We know we are not walking this road in vain. He is sovereign in it all. I do know that since our journey has started, at least three other friends have confided that they too are on the same road. Godly families. Ministry families. More than ever I know He is working in this. Somehow. In some way I have faith that He can bring purpose from the pain.
So please dear churches, in all circumstances make sure you are PURPOSEFUL in loving and caring for those who are hurting within your local body. We live in dark days and the enemy is prowling. He is viciously attacking families. When we are weak, we need to strength of our fellow believers to help us. We can’t make it otherwise.
*This blog was written for purposes of churches reaching out to hurting members. NOT to say that professional help isn’t needed. If you need to seek counseling, please reach out to a pastor, ministry partner, or family member who can guide you in this matter.
This also does not touch on dealing with sin issues that arise in families, only the affects of it. Again, this may come in a later blog.