Helping parents who’ve lost a child must be one of the most difficult things pastors and church leadership teams must face. I am one of those parents. In 2008, when our three-year-old son died from strep throat, I did not know the Lord, nor go to a church. I had been “church shopping” in the months before our son passed away on a Friday morning. On Saturday, we knocked on the door of a church I had visited only two or three times.
The response was swift, yet gentle. The pastor and his wife were comforting, but not overwhelming. Even though they didn’t know us at all, they allowed us to put together what we wanted for our son’s memorial service. We didn’t play a single Christian song, and they didn’t seem to care. We didn’t have any Scripture or prayers to request, and they didn’t seem to notice. Yet, the pastor boldly shared the gospel message to a crowd from all walks of life and different religions. I’m so grateful, that while he allowed us to create Austin’s service in our own way, he did not shy away from his responsibility as pastor to share the Good News.
As we grasped for anything to lift us up out of the pit of grief, this church showed us unconditional love and no judgment. I had so many wrong ideas about God, the Bible, and the church. I am quite certain that I shocked them at times. Yet, I never saw a reaction on their faces, heard condemnation in their responses, nor felt ashamed. Usually, I left the people of this church feeling encouraged and curious about what they said to me.
How did they do it? How did they take a mom who was skeptical and cynical about Jesus and the church, who was grieving the loss of a child, and grow her into a “sold-out” Christ-follower?
The answer is simple: show vs. tell.
Below are my “top ten” examples of how this church helped me turn towards God in the storm of losing a child:
- They never judged me; they never told me straight out that I was wrong (even though I was); rather, they pointed me to my Bible, prayer, and seeking God for my answers.
- No one pressed me to see that good things come from suffering; please do not try to convince a parent that losing their child has something “good” in it; let the Lord draw them; He’s the only one who can prove His character and love in the midst of this devasting grief.
- They invited me into their lives, not just into their “church;” I was invited to coffee, lunch, playdates, walks, over to their house, to run an errand, etc.
- They prayed with me, often and out loud; I’m sure they also prayed for me, but it was the praying with me that helped me feel the love of God.
- They did not claim to have the answers. Often, they didn’t even attempt to give an answer to the difficult questions, especially the “why?” cry of my heart. I heard, “I don’t know” or “no one knows.” They would guide me, instead, back into the Word and quiet time with God.
- They surrounded me with people who had experience discipling others, with wisdom and discernment.
- They encouraged honesty before Almighty God by helping me develop intimacy with Him; they suggested practical ways to build the habit of time with the Lord into my busy, working-mom life.
- They acknowledged only God can heal this wound, that only God would know what to say, what to do. Only God can bring true peace and restore joy, especially after a loss of a child.
- They taught me to love the Word of God and to understand its power; not by badgering me about reading my Bible, but by knowing it for themselves and showing me how they used it to solve their problems, heal their hurts, and lessen their worries. The Bible was the fabric of their strength and I could see it weaved through their lives.
- They were vulnerable and open; in order to show me what a true relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ looks like, they had to show me where they started, how they struggled, where they fell down, and how God loved them through it all.
These actions left me wanting what these people had: a vibrant, powerful relationship with Almighty God. Show them the way and love them through it!
KIM ERICKSON began following Christ after the death of her three-year-old son in 2008. Kim began a writing and teaching ministry to help other women, which can be found at www. KimAErickson.com. She is the author of Surviving Sorrow: A Mother’s Guide to Living with Loss and His Last Words: What Jesus Taught and Prayed in His Final Hours. Kim is also an attorney and practices immigration law. She lives in Florida with her husband, Devin, and son, Ethan.