Ministering During Personal Tragedy

July 2, 2020
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This morning I drove to my son’s grave. At 27 years old, I never fathomed I would be driving to a family member’s grave, especially my son’s grave. This morning’s drive did not seem natural. I don’t think it will ever seem natural; parents are not supposed to bury their children.

My son’s death came suddenly. My wife, Rachel, and I were celebrating so much in life. We were celebrating a new position in ministry that God had called us to. We were excited as I was ending my seminary education. God had blessed us with an energetic 2-year-old named Canon. And our second son, Will, would soon be born.

We moved to Hendersonville, Tenn., to join a church planting team in January 2011. On February 6, 2011, Rachel and I found ourselves in the hospital dealing with the news that our son, Will, was going to be delivered and would not live very long after birth. 

Our world came crashing down.

We were not prepared for the death of our son. About the only thing we could do was cry. In the months following Will’s death, we began to cope with our loss. We began to find our new normal as parents who lost a child. During those months, I learned three major lessons as a minister. I pray that I (or anyone else) will never have to apply these lessons again. 

1. Minister to your family.

 I was a new minister in a new church. There were people who needed to be ministered to throughout our community. More importantly, I had a family who needed me to minister to them. My 2-year-old son at the time wanted his daddy to hug him and play football with him. Rachel so desperately needed me to be a husband with a listening and compassionate ear. I wish I could tell you I was the perfect husband and dad during this time, but I wasn’t. If you find yourself in this position, minister to your family first.

2. Don’t hide your grief in your work. 

I tend to be a workhorse. This trait is often perceived as a good quality, but during a time of personal tragedy, it’s not. I focused what little mental energy I had into my work. I did not allow myself to grieve. In my mind, I had to be strong for my family so that they could grieve. In order to eliminate my grief, I hid it in hours of work. It’s been nineteen months since Will passed away and I am grieving more now than when he passed away.

 3. Seek God’s plan during tragedy.

God provided a peace that only He could provide during the immediate months following Will’s death. This peace was undeniable. We prayed for God’s comfort and He clearly provided it. Having this peace allowed us to seek out God’s plan during tragedy. While it is not completely clear, we understand God has enabled us to minister to others who are going through tragedy. God had and has a plan for Will’s death. Rachel and I will continue to seek it.

This morning I drove to my son’s grave. I cried a lot. My tears were strong tears of grief. I longed to simply give him a hug. But the tears were also tears of joy. I cannot wait until I have that sweet reunion with my little boy in heaven. It will be such a tremendous joy, a joy that only comes from the Lord.

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21 Comments

  • Rick Donaldson says on

    Jess, thank you for sharing and being transparent about the loss. When my wife Penny, and I lost our daughter Tara 18yrs old and her cousin Jennifer also 18 in a tragic drowning accident, we were thrust into a reality, not at all familiar to us. I didn’t know where to turn or what to do, how to serve my wife, and minister to her and my son who was married only weeks before. Now we were suffering empty nest syndrome as well as the loss of my daughter and niece. I wrote a book about my journey entitle Colored Pencils (https://www.amazon.com/Colored-Pencils-Rick-Donaldson/dp/1609578880) Books a Million and others. There is a saying ” Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches,” and I think that certainly applies to grief. I didn’t want someone telling me about the “Five Stages of Grief” which I don’t subscribe to and I touched on this in my book. I wasn’t trying to write a book; I was journaling. My daughter was born in July and died in August so these two months forever make the summertime bittersweet for us. I will say that God has blessed us in our journey of healing and continues to do so. Thank you for sharing and may God continue to color your lives with his presence.

  • Wanda I Betancourt says on

    Thank you for sharing. Loss and grieving are important topics and usually people do not talk about it. The culture tells us: don’t talk about it. We need to grief! When we share our experiences, we are giving permission to other people to express their feeling. God Bless You and your family.

  • Gary Balfour says on

    Your story brought tears to my eyes and I prayed for your strength and comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:7 comes to mind.

  • Joyce Miles says on

    Thank you for sharing, only the person,s who,s hearts has been broken of
    lost of a love one ,like my grandson. He was my heart. ..thank you for I to get joy from
    God ,knowing i will see him again. Even when the tears keep coming. May God bless you and your
    family hearts. I learned we never get over the lost of our love one, we simply learn to live with the grief of the lost while
    dismissing the pain. We Live with the true Joy only God can gives us over Grief. Thank You .

    • Jess Rainer says on

      Joyce, one thing my wife and I have learned: we don’t ever want to get over the loss of our son. We simply want to take the grief and turn into ministry. Thank you for that reminder!

  • Jess
    Thank you for your article. My wife and I lost our 23 year old son last year to suicide. The pain and grief have been unfathomable. I can relate very well to your story. I, too, look forward to seeing my son again in heaven. My prayers are with you and your family as you continue to heal in the days to come. Jesus has been everything He promised He would be for us. I praise Him for His goodness and compassion. Death does not have the last word!

    • Jess Rainer says on

      Richard, I am learning that truth more and more: “Death does not have the last word.” I recently preached the story of Lazarus. I was drawn deeper into that truth as Jesus grieved at the curse of sin and death.

      And I am incredibly sorry for your loss. I wish there were words that could take away that pain and grief. I am praying for you now.

  • Jess, My heart goes out to you and Rachel. I cannot imagine the grief of losing one of my kids. Thank you for sharing this with us. You never really know what goes on in someone’s life behind the scenes. Praying for your family. Blessings my friend.

  • Pastor Tammy S Carpenter says on

    Hello Pastor Jess Rainer,
    My name is Pastor Tammy Carpenter, I was so amazed at your article on tragedy while serving in ministry. Thank you for sharing and I have placed it in my files as a Christian Counselor to reflect back on how to help my peers in the ministry when dealing with a loss of a loved one. It is my prayer that God will continue to use your ministry for continuous help for all who are working in the Kingdom of God. God never makes any mistake on who is to carry out His mission. I too have a loss of two sets of twins. One pregnancy at the age of twenty (they were born premature and weighed 1lb.5oz/1lb.3oz -boy & girl. The daughter passed the next day and the son 7 months later). This hurt to the heart as of today, that I was so young that I didn’t understand life much, but now I know that God never makes any mistakes. The second set of twins never made it to birth, due to the fact that I was still young, immature of things at the age of 24, trying to live life without parents. Mother, Father, Grandparents were all passing. Death was tragic enough, neither to say that I was lost in a world during my thing. I got pregnant from a young guy, who never loved me or wanted to be with me. I later had an abortion. This is my first time ever confessing to the truth to anyone but others know that I had lost two set of twins but not the abortion. I know now that I have been forgiven by God and to use every moment as teaching of truth. Thank you for sharing and setting my heart free fully. I needed to make this confession known and openly. Real tragedy do hurts and yes, it is how we handle it first.

    • Jess Rainer says on

      Tammy, I cannot imagine the pain and grief you have been carrying for so many years. I am so grateful that you took this step of healing and that my story was part of that. I know pray that God will do the same for you. That your story will lead to healing for others. In fact, I want to pray right now for you.

      My prayer for you right now: “Dear God, please use Tammy in ways that she cannot even ask or think. Use this moment of telling her story to open up doors for others who are desperately needing to the same. Use Tammy to bring healing through the Holy Spirit to someone who feels like they can’t get healing or don’t deserve healing. Use Tammy’s story mightily. Amen.”

      Thank you, Tammy.

  • Thank you so much for this. I lost my step dad and my mother 6months later last year. I have not had time to grieve her loss. Church and ministry have been even harder during this pandemic. God is truly awesome and I am praying for his grace.

    • Jess Rainer says on

      Victoria, I am very sorry for your loss. You’re right, grief is so much harder right now. I pray that God will help you through this time in only ways that He can.

  • Thank you Jess for sharing this honest message of grief and the wisdom you received from the Lord. By you sharing, I pray many men will find their language of lament and know they are not alone. Men are can often be unintentionally forgotten through a reproductive loss as they work hard to provide and support their family and loved ones while keeping their pain silent. God bless you and your family.

    • Jess Rainer says on

      Tanya, my wife and I learned how differently we grieved. It’s an important piece of the grieving process to learn that in a marriage.

  • Bob Myers says on

    We walked the same path many years ago. Having a loving community of faith became, for us, our healing base. At the same time, our son’s surviving twin was fighting for his live with a very dangerous infection from which he finally did recover. Our son’s death also happened just as I was making a job transition and we were moving. We also found that residual grief and issues emerged after our son’s death for a number of years. On the other hand, our experience gave me empathy and boldness in ministering to families who experience similar tragedies.

    God knows all about our sorrows. His grace overflows when we are overwhelmed. We just need to pay attention and receive it.

    • Jess Rainer says on

      Bob, there is much comfort knowing that there are others who walked the same path. That’s another piece I’ve learned over the years: leaning on others.

  • Craig Culbreth says on

    Thanks for this reminder. Last month my wife of 38 years passed away. She fought cancer for 5 1/2 years. We use that 5 1/2 years to try to reach the lost world with a message of hope. That’s still the message of my heart is hope. It’s just very hard when your heart has a hole in it. I do believe God uses Tragedies to touch other peoples lives

    • Jess Rainer says on

      Craig, I can’t fathom what that hole feels like. I am so very sorry for your loss. The fact you still share the message of hope in the midst of suffering is such an encouragement to me. Thank you.

      • Fitzroy Sam says on

        Hi Pastor Jess Rainer, my name is Fitzroy Sam and I just lost a sister and brother-in-law within a matter of days. I am comforted by your openness to share your unspeakable loss. Undoubtedly, God comforted you so that you can comfort others.