Moments Bible College and church don’t prepare you for

I have learned over my experience as a human being that there are moments that we are less than prepared for such as failure, loss, and death. Maybe that failure was academic, social, or economic. Maybe you lost a job, a friendship, or a significant item. And death…who can be ready for that in most instances? I don’t need to be speaking as a ministry leader to make these observations.

What I will do for the rest of this article is share lessons from this past year that I was never taught about in Bible college, books I have read, or even in church about loss, death, and grief.

1. Hospital youth ministry

I remember the night that my wife Jennica passed away that my teenage brother was sitting in the lobby sleeping when we heard the news that there was nothing else the doctors could do for her. My Mom told me that I should go and tell him because he needed me to show him love. My first thought was, “This isn’t something they teach you about how to do ministry to kids in seminary or Bible college.” I sat with him and cried and shared the news with him and he cried and I remember after a while saying this to him: “We shouldn’t be sad the way people that don’t have Jesus are sad when a loved one dies, but we should remember that times like this is when other Christians pull together and show us God’s love because we are all a part of his family.” Beyond that there was nothing I could say.

2. Writing and sharing a eulogy

My bachelors degree is in speech communication and yet, nothing could have trained me for giving a eulogy. I had always told Jennica that I hoped that when we were old that God would let me live past her so that I could share his love and faithfulness in our lives. That might be something weird to say, but I knew that between the two of us that I would have more of that desire realistically. It took me a few hours and a few people later to really come up with what to say. I still remember my opening line was, “Sorry reading a eulogy wasn’t something they trained me for in college.”

3. The physical and emotional toll of grief

I remember that I had headaches for literally 2 weeks. I could barely sleep. I didn’t like eating and I wanted to scream every time I saw something good in the world like little babies at the grocery store, couples holding hands, and people laughing. I think that what I heard most was “Grief is normal after an experience of the loss of someone you love.” That sounds all very simplistic but at the same time I felt like I might be dying physically or that locking myself away from people was going to turn me into a social outcast.

4. That God can handle all my negative emotions

Ok, maybe I had heard this from professors, but maybe for me it wasn’t so much that I disbelieved them but it was more that I had no category or reason to feel negatively about God until I reached the breaking point of losing my wife. I remember the day after her death that I went and journaled a lot and was so upset at the Bible. I felt like God had failed me and that his healing power wasn’t real. I was angry and I was pretty much ready to give God the boot when he spoke so clearly to me, “Andrew, it’s not about you. I have healed her, just not the way that you wanted me to.” Those were powerful words and it brought me to have to accept my humble position as a servant and mere mortal before the God of the universe. It took a process, but I truly have come to realize that God can handle all my negative emotions.

5. A theology for death and dying

Beyond the Sunday School answers of people who believe in Jesus go to heaven when they die, and people who don’t go to hell I had no real category of a theology and Christian praxis in the event of a death of someone that I knew. I didn’t know what to do with the dead body that I saw before me in the hospital bed or in the casket, and then in the ground. I knew that her spirit was with Jesus and so it felt weird for me to try and express my feelings of hurt, frustration, and grief to someone who wasn’t physically present with me. I still struggle with going to the cemetery because it is a place where a body is- no more and no less. This last week I was able to have lunch with a professor and I told him the way I felt about the cemetery. He told me that, “While it may not be the reality that Jennica is in the ground there, but that her spirit is with the Lord, that place is a marker that commemorates her so that you can find strength to keep going even in the midst of pain and brokenness.” He was right. I do normally pray there and cry out to God for healing. I know that while I can’t be with her right now I can rejoice that she is in God’s presence worshiping him.

These are just a few lessons that I wanted to share with you that I think are important in considering when dealing with grief, loss, and death. Thanks for hearing me out!

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8 thoughts on “Moments Bible College and church don’t prepare you for

  1. Andrew, thank you so much for sharing your hard earned lessons. With all sincerity I know Jennica would be proud of how you have dealt with such sorrow. She was and still is an amazing woman. Her love for God and for you was so very clear. Here is to keeping her love alive for God and spreading it to the hurting!

    • Thanks Ranelle,
      I’m considering making these topics more expanded in an essay or book form eventually. I appreciate your friendship, and I hope that God will continue to give you strength as you keep ministering and being connected to your small community back in Washington :)

  2. Andrew,
    You have shined as a husband, friend and Christian. You are a breath of fresh air to those who know your story…a true radiation of Christ. I am glad that you are able to share with others so openly and honestly. I remember those first days after she passed and we were trying to understand any of what had happened…we knew Christ had a reason. You are standing strong because you have been steadfast in staying close to Christ….Jennica would be proud of you!

  3. After our son died, I would have to say that it was difficult to understand the way Christian people reacted to us. We felt abandoned, like we were beaten up and lying on the side of the road while Christian people crossed to the other side of the street (or sneaked down a grocery aisle) to avoid us. I felt at the time – and I still feel today – that there is little instruction in the Christian community on how to help those who suffer deep losses. I know that it’s not easy to know what to say to or do for a grieving person, but perhaps a little more consistent instruction or easily available resources would help.

    • I agree. I went through the Grief Share program. It was excellent! The group atmosphere made it good for me to come and not have to feel pressured to say anything, and I also saw living examples in my group leaders as to how they have dealt with grief in their own family. I would be interested to know if there are many resources available for parents and ministry leaders to deal specifically with children ages 9-18. I think there is still a lot to learn for myself, but I’m hoping help others be aware and be a good example of Christ’s compassion not only to those who are hurt, but also to those who are ignorant about how to be helpful towards others.

  4. I would have to agree that as Christians we don’t do well in ministering to those who have experienced grief and/or a traumatic event in their lives and we need to do better. I know that after Jennica passed away I started reading and asking questions about how to reach out to those who were grieving. I hope that I can minister better to those who need us to be with them. Andrew, your experience, will help prepare you to better minister to those you work with now and later in life.

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