December 21, 2018 • Jonathan Greer
My wife and I had been trying to have a second child for a few years when by God’s grace we were able to conceive. The joy of that moment that we had prayed for so long was tremendous. A longing in our souls and what felt like an emptiness in our marriage was finally filled by God. Once again we could begin to hope, and plan, and dream of a new little baby in our home. Then, as quickly as that hope had been given to us, it was taken away. Nothing can take away the weight of the silence in the sonogram room as the sonographer desperately tried to find a heartbeat that just wasn’t there. A heartbeat that was there just weeks before.
It’s been about 8 months now and at the time I write this it is the week our child was supposed to be born. Now the pain, the feelings of loss, and the heartache that we had processed and grieved through are fresh once again. Meanwhile, the Christmas season is among us with all of its festive cheer. The list of church events seems to go on forever: the children’s play, the adult cantata, Sunday School Christmas parties, preaching a series on Advent, and that’s not counting any family gatherings or plans that have been made. So the question begging to be asked is this: How can a pastor who is suffering the loss of a loved one lead his family through this holiday season? How do you take care of your family so that you will be able to tend to all the demands of the Christmas season on a pastor?
I can’t say that I have all the answers here, but I do have a 5 suggestions that have been a guide to me as I deal with my own experience of loss.
Open up to church leadership
It’s important to rely on the leadership in your church. If you have another pastor, that is great. If you are the only pastor then open up to your deacons. Let them know what is going on in your family and that it may affect your availability during this time. Ask them to commit to praying for your family, and let them know that you may have to take some more time to be with your family during this season. You won’t be neglecting your responsibilities at the church, but your family must come first.
Remember to love your wife well.
There are two ways to take this advice. First, your wife might be suffering from loss in a unique way that you have not considered. Make time in your schedule to talk with her, be with her, and serve her. Figure out ways to help her cope. Maybe she needs family time. Maybe she needs alone time. Maybe she just needs a little help around the house because in her state of grief she isn’t able to be as productive as usual. You need to go above and beyond to ensure that your wife feels loved and supported during this time of grief.
Second, maybe you are the one feeling the loss more deeply than your wife. It is important that in your time of loss you don’t close yourself off and retreat from your wife. She still needs you to be her husband, and to be a father to your children. Make sure you communicate your needs with your wife so she can help you as you grieve.
Remember to love your children well.
Are your children hurting through this time of loss? If so, then you need to prioritize time with them. They may need extra time with their parents. Whether its spending time talking and processing through their feelings, or if they just need more cuddles and hugs because they are sad, you need to be there for them. In this hard time for your family, don’t take their father away too. Show your children the appropriate way to mourn loss. If they don’t learn it from you how will they learn it at all?
Don’t be afraid to miss church or family events.
This is really where being open with your church leadership pays off. You may not be in the mood to go to that Christmas party, or that meal at a family’s house. It could be you, your wife, or your children. It’s ok to show up to an event without your family. It’s ok to miss an event altogether. Forcing yourself and your family to go to everything and be at everything as if nothing is going wrong in your lives only prolongs the suffering. Take the time away from people now so you can heal, so that you can get back to normal as soon as possible.
Don’t neglect time in the Word
Often times it’s the busiest, most trying times of our lives that we are tempted to forsake our time in the word. Family worship goes out the window because you’re just too busy, or maybe because you are too depressed to lead your family in worship. It is imperative that you push through. You and your family are hurting. Don’t deprive yourselves of the primary source of comfort and healing. God’s word will continue to be a light unto your path, a balm to your weary soul. It will remind you that God is sovereign and faithful; that “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” So stay in the Word, and lead your family well by making sure they are in the Word. And may the peace that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ.