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Ministering through grief after suffering personal tragedy

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Unsplash/Jacob Postuma

This morning I drove to my son’s grave. At 27 years old, I never fathomed I would be driving to a family member’s grave, especially my son’s grave. This morning’s drive did not seem natural. I don’t think it will ever seem natural; parents are not supposed to bury their children.

My son’s death came suddenly. My wife, Rachel, and I were celebrating so much in life. We were celebrating a new position in ministry that God had called us to. We were excited as I was ending my seminary education. God had blessed us with an energetic 2-year-old named Canon. And our second son, Will, would soon be born.

We moved to Hendersonville, Tennessee, to join a church planting team in January 2011. On Feb. 6, 2011, Rachel and I found ourselves in the hospital dealing with the news that our son, Will, was going to be delivered and would not live very long after birth. 

Our world came crashing down.

We were not prepared for the death of our son. About the only thing we could do was cry. In the months following Will’s death, we began to cope with our loss. We began to find our new normal as parents who lost a child. During those months, I learned three major lessons as a minister. I pray that I (or anyone else) will never have to apply these lessons again. 

1. Minister to your family.

I was a new minister in a new church. There were people who needed to be ministered to throughout our community. More importantly, I had a family who needed me to minister to them. My 2-year-old son at the time wanted his daddy to hug him and play football with him. Rachel so desperately needed me to be a husband with a listening and compassionate ear. I wish I could tell you I was the perfect husband and dad during this time, but I wasn’t. If you find yourself in this position, minister to your family first.

2. Don’t hide your grief in your work. 

I tend to be a workhorse. This trait is often perceived as a good quality, but during a time of personal tragedy, it’s not. I focused what little mental energy I had into my work. I did not allow myself to grieve. In my mind, I had to be strong for my family so that they could grieve. In order to eliminate my grief, I hid it in hours of work. It’s been 19 months since Will passed away and I am grieving more now than when he passed away.

 3. Seek God’s plan during tragedy.

God provided a peace that only He could provide during the immediate months following Will’s death. This peace was undeniable. We prayed for God’s comfort and He clearly provided it. Having this peace allowed us to seek out God’s plan during tragedy. While it is not completely clear, we understand God has enabled us to minister to others who are going through tragedy. God had and has a plan for Will’s death. Rachel and I will continue to seek it.

This morning I drove to my son’s grave. I cried a lot. My tears were strong tears of grief. I longed to simply give him a hug. But the tears were also tears of joy. I cannot wait until I have that sweet reunion with my little boy in Heaven. It will be such a tremendous joy, a joy that only comes from the Lord.

This piece was originally published at Church Answers 

Jess Rainer is the co-founder of Rainer Publishing. As co-author of “The Millennials”, Jess provides insights into the next generation of leaders.

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