on Friday, March 15, 2019

People react to a traumatic event in a variety of ways. Each expresses grief differently and the rate at which healing comes can vary in dramatic ways.

The following list, though not comprehensive, contains some practical suggestions for long-term ministry to grieving people. Included are some observations from Kathy Jo Brown, whose husband Shawn Brown died when a gunman entered Wedgwood Baptist Church, Ft. Worth, Texas, on Sept. 15, 1999. Her testimony of God’s faithfulness has been a blessing to all who have heard it.

  1. Be willing to listen to the hurt and the grief and avoid giving quick answers and platitudes.

    Sometimes we don’t have all the answers.

    “He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit” Proverbs 17:27  “Some things don’t make sense, righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve.” (Ecclesiastes 8:14)

  2. Assure people that the roller coaster of emotions is normal.

    Kathy Jo:  “I believe the most beneficial aspect of my grief is to know that the whole gamut of my feelings are normal, and that God understands each and every emotion. He has carried me, even when I forget to ask. He speaks, even when I forget to listen. When I become overwhelmed with questions and despair, I have learned to cry out again and again, ‘Lord, I trust you.’”   

    “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. He saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalms 34:18)
  3. Assure people of God’s love and His abiding presence and your continued prayers.

    God has said, “Never will I leave you: never will I forsake you.”  So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6). “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35)

    Continually lift the person up in prayer; ask them to identify specific prayer concerns. “Pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16).Be reminded that God is still in control. “Many plans are in the heart of a man, but the Lord’s counsel will stand (Proverbs 19:21).

  4. Help them to realize that they are not responsible for the tragedy.

    This reaction is sometimes referred to as survivor’s guilt, and it can take a number of forms: “Why wasn’t it me, instead; I should have been the one to die” or, “If only I had changed my plans, or been a few minutes earlier (or later)” or “If only I had realized what was going on and done something sooner.” Underlying this form of reasoning are illogical assumptions such as an ability to know the immediate future or have knowledge and control over the actions of other people.  “Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come?” (Ecclesiastes 8:7).

    Confusion and even a poor choice of action are normal responses in crisis situations, but they should not be confused with the evil intentions of the perpetrators of violence.

  5. Allow victims to share memories and encourage them to see how God has been working in their lives.

    “Another way I have found healing is to share some of the words that Shawn had wanted so much to share,” Kathy Jo Brown said. “The night before the shooting, Shawn was so excited about what God had been teaching him that he couldn’t even sit down as he shared with me. As I cooked supper, he told me how God had been teaching him about the Levites and the way they loved worship. He also had been preparing a sermon about Hebrews 12:1-2, how we should ‘run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.’ I have thought of that precious moment over and over again. Shawn loved to teach me what he was learning. When I share Shawn’s heart, it helps me to know that his ministry continues, and it ministers to me as well.”
  6. Encourage them to write down their thoughts and experiences.

    Kathy Jo:  “I journal everything that I feel, everything that I would like to tell Shawn, and everything people share with me about how God has used this tragedy to bring people to himself. When people ask what they can do for me I tell them to pray, and to let me know of anyone who comes to the Lord through this circumstance. This just makes it less in vain.”
  7. Encourage them as they attempt to resume normal daily activities, but prepare them for the realization that things will never be the same again.

    Kathy Jo:  “Returning to work has been good, as I have been able to stay busy during the day, and channel my energy toward my kindergarten students. They are so dear to my heart and I benefit greatly from their hugs and words of encouragement. Returning to a regular exercise program has also been a healthy way to channel my energy—one that Shawn and I enjoyed doing together. I know that he would want me to stay dedicated to that area of my life.”
    Prepare them for the ebb and flow of emotions and memories in the days, months, and even years to come, particularly during times of significant events such as birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. “Encourage one another and build up one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

  8. Assist them in developing a strong support system.

    Kathy Jo:  “I had little experience in the area of grief. It has been very important for me to be close to family and friends. God has provided a strong support system for me, and I know He had planned long ago for such a time as this.”

    As time goes by, people return to their normal routines and the grieving person may be overlooked. A phone call, visit, invitation to a meal, or a card periodically are some of the ways that you can continue to offer comfort and support. Let other people know how they can be of help and educate them on ways they can avoid inadvertently causing additional grief and suffering. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

  9. Help them realize that everyone grieves differently.

    There is no specific time frame to “be over” the grief and loss. Healthy grieving can be short or long, mild or intense, and the bereaved may wish to be left alone or prefer the company of others. Caregivers need to match their response to the needs of the individual. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

  10. Help them to see that in the midst of personal, emotional, and social earthquakes, God is still the firm foundation; He is in control and we can trust Him.

    “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Psalms 73:26). “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Editor’s Note: This is an adaptation of an article by Ian Jones that appeared in a special edition of "Southwestern News," 1999, weeks after the tragic shooting at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, Texas that claimed seven lives and wounded seven others.