As Christians respond with prayers and condolences after the sudden death of Maria Chapman – the adopted daughter of Christian music star Steven Curtis Chapman – in a car accident this Wednesday, many Christian families have been left wondering how any family, even their own, can best cope in such a tragic situation.
According to Dr. Bill Maier, child and family psychologist and vice president of Focus on the Family, the most important thing in coping with the grieving loss of a child or other family member is confidence and belief in a loving God that can carry us through difficulties.
"One of the blessings about being a Christian is that we have a hope that non-believers don't have when it comes to death. We have very specific promises when it comes it to eternity and believing in Jesus Christ," Maier said.
"We should know that our loved ones will be in God's arm forever. The Bible is so clear that God will never leave us or forsake us. That's what we can fall back on," he added.
Maier emphasized that while it is important for neighbors, friends, family members, and other church members to reach out and comfort those in grieving, one should be sensitive to their situation and avoid making "pat" comments – while at the same time making it clear that you're emotionally available to them.
"In situations like these, there are no easy answers. It is not helpful for a friend or relative who is going through grief and loss to just give them Bible verses," he said. "The death of a child is the one of the most painful forms of grief for a parent."
But most importantly, Maier noted, is the need for those who experience the loss of a family member to be unafraid to express their full range of emotions.
"Bottling up one's feelings can be both counter productive and self destructive," Maier said.
"If you read the Gospel of Mark, and look at the life of Jesus and jot down every time he expressed an emotion – joy, sadness, anger, grief – if our Lord and savior expressed a full range of emotions there is no reason we should bottle up our emotions," he pointed out.
"Our God is a big God and He can handle us even being mad about an untimely death. We should not be afraid to express emotions of sadness and grief," he added.
As families go through the grieving process then, they should counsel one another, turn to God, and avoid blame.
Meier said that chapter 5 of Romans about suffering and perseverance leading to a path of hope exemplifies the mercy of Christ that Christians can call upon.
"There is a song by Steven Chapman that even talks about this," Meier said. "I think it's prophetic that Chapman would write such a song that addresses this very issue."
Steven Curtis Chapman is one of the most popular musicians in the Christian music scene. Over 10 millions of his albums have been sold worldwide.
Chapman, who adopted Maria from China four years ago, is a well known advocate of adoption and helped found The Shaohannah's Hope Ministry, a group that assists families pursuing adoption.
Chapman and his wife Mary founded the ministry in 2003 after volunteering at a group of orphanages in China.
In addition to Maria, the Chapmans had adopted two other daughters from China, giving them a total of six children - three of whom are their biological children.
A memorial service was held for Maria Saturday.
In a statement released Thursday, Chapman's manager, Jim Houser, spoke of the hope in Jesus Christ and the belief that Maria was in a better place.
"[W]e trust in a God who was not surprised by this and because of Jesus I am certain through faith in Him we will see Maria again."