How to Lead Those Who Feel Left Behind
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When I first received the call, it didn’t make any sense. I remember saying, “Wait…what? Can you say that again?” I repeated the name of the person in question and said, “________, are you sure we’re talking about the same person? I just saw them.” The caller repeated the same name and the same story. It was all too true. Just like that, the world had grown a bit more cold and dull. I was angry, frustrated, and felt helpless.
One of the last works we have from C.S. Lewis catalogs his doubts and frustrations after the loss of his wife to cancer. In A Grief Observed, he describes his own struggle in gut-wrenching honesty:
“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, 'Blessed are they that mourn,' and I accept it. I've got nothing that I hadn't bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”
He’s right, you know. Grief is different when it’s felt and not just observed from the outside. Christians are those well acquainted with both the dizzying joys of this life and the dark depths of sorrow. We KNOW the way sin has affected everything. We KNOW sin brings forth death (Rom. 6:23). We KNOW Christ is the answer to every pain and problem and that He has triumphed over death and Hell (Rev. 1:18). Yet, we also KNOW the pain is still here and that the time has not come for all sorrow to be wiped away (Rev. 21:4). So how are we to lead those left behind when our hearts are broken as well?
1. Be There, Be With Them
One of the best things we can do to minister to grieving students and families is to be with them. I know this does not sound like a very big deal, but it is biblical. Romans 12:15 commands us to laugh with those who laugh and cry with those who cry. It's awkward. I get it. We don't know what to say or do, and that's okay. Nowhere in Scripture do I find a command to know the perfect thing to say or do. Your presence with those who are grieving helps fight off the fear and agony of loss. Those who have lost a loved one often just need someone to "be there" or listen to them process what's going on. Listen well. Laugh when stories and memories come up. Cry when reality hits and everyone feels overwhelmed. Your willingness to be there and be real gives those who are grieving the freedom to be there and be themselves.
2. We Must Pray Through Our Pain
You, as a student pastor, carry some of the emotional and spiritual tolls of the families you disciple. You walk with them through life and shepherd them in the good times and the bad. In doing this, they become much like family. There will be times you are overwhelmed by the sheer depth of their struggles. Prepare for these times by cultivating freedom and frequency in your prayers. Speak to God as a child would to his Father and pour your heart out to Him throughout the day. Doubts, fears, and frustrations are all within God’s power to hear and heal. When tragedy strikes, prayer will be what the grieving often struggle with. When people are overwhelmed, or you feel the need to pray, do it right then and there with others. Doing so engages our hearts and minds and unites us in our weakness (Romans 8:26). The Holy Spirit is called upon to bring peace and unity where otherwise there is none. Do not force prayer upon those who might be too hurt to speak to God at that moment, but do offer to pray over them and with your arm around them.
3. When You Speak, Speak the Truth
Although I pray there isn’t, there may come a time when you will be called upon to lead a service for one of your students who has passed away. Often, we feel a burden to give the family “answers” and “fix” things to bring them closure and peace. In those times, I’ve heard many words which were not just theologically incorrect but blistering to the family in their grief. “God needed them more than you do.” “Don’t worry, time heals all wounds.” Doubtless, you’ve heard many words in your own grief that stung and made you shake your head in incredulity. We are not in charge of fixing people or situations, and we certainly don’t have the answers. We are simply called to be faithful to the One who does. Preach the Word of God, for His words are the only ones that will bring peace and healing. Weave Scripture into your conversations and remind those who are hurting that God Himself is well acquainted with grief and is with them even now (Psalm 34:18).
4. Remember Them
Grief often hits friends and family hardest a week or two after the funeral. Friends stop calling and checking in. Life schedules start to press their urgency. Everyone goes back to their lives. Loneliness and bitterness often begin to seep into one’s heart and thoughts. While those grieving do not want every conversation to lead back to their loved one, they struggle to even plan their day without revisiting that pain. Make yourself available to listen to them. Even a call or text makes a big difference. Let them know they are not forgotten and that you’re still there. We tend to not bring up those who have passed because we don’t want to seem crass or “bring the mood down.” However, those who have died left an impact on you and many others. Minimizing that impact hurts those still grieving. Christians still grieve, but we do it differently. We grieve with hope because we will see them again (1 Thess. 4:13). Send a card on the anniversary of their loved one’s death. Share a story and a word of encouragement. Let them know they are not alone.
We, too, must remember that we are not alone. Christ guides us in the good times and the bad. Lean into His Word and His grace throughout your ministry and life.
Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:
- Have you ever prepared a funeral message? What are some passages of Scripture that you saw make an impact in a grieving community?
- How would you specifically address the death of a student in your student ministry? Have you thought about training student volunteers and parents for such a possibility?
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