Life is hard and definitely messy. At one time or another, everyone experiences loss. This could be the loss of a loved one or the loss of a normal way of life. Loss gives way to grief, and the way that overwhelming emotion is handled can be difficult. Parents dealing with their children’s grief are often confused about what to say and what to do.
Enter the church. The body of Christ ought to be a loving resource that families feel comfortable reaching out to. If you are leading families through a difficult time (and you’re bound to sooner or later), this article is for you. Recognizing, reaching out, reassuring, releasing, resources, and remembering are all parts of a plan that can help you and your church help kids process grief.
John 16:33 says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Troubles are undeniable because we live in a broken world. Everyone you encounter has, is, or will experience loss and grief. If you want to serve others, your radar needs to be up to see their needs. Often you may think of big triggers like death of a family member or close friend. These obviously bring great loss and stress to those they affect but remember to look past the obvious and see how your families may be reeling from loss in other ways.
The things that grieve kids may not be as recognizable, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. The first death a kid experiences may be that of a pet instead of a person. Losing out on friendships because of arguments or a bully situation can also cause a sense of loss. Perhaps one of the biggest losses kids have faced in recent times is that of normalcy. Living during this time of the pandemic has turned worlds upside down. As an adult, you have surely struggled with how things look different than they did a year ago. Kids are having those same struggles, and they need help processing the grief that comes from this type of loss.
So, no matter what the grief stems from, you must learn to recognize it. See it. Find out how the families under your care are struggling and know what they are dealing with. This is the first step in being able to offer help.
Once you recognize it, reach out. People need help whether they ask for it or not. This comes more easily when you have a good connection with your families. When you already have an ongoing conversation, you’re more likely to know their needs. Be attentive to kids during your time with them to know what’s going on in their families. Listen intently during your children’s church prayer times. What’s on their minds? What have they asked for prayer for?
Take note and follow up by reaching out to them. Let them know you’re there to listen and help them process. It means so much to families if you are truly interested in what’s going on in their lives. You want them to feel like you are the one they can call and count on in a hard situation. Don’t think that reaching out will be easy. Dealing with someone else’s sorrow is messy and hard, but it’s what you’re supposed to do. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 is a reminder of that. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” It’s a command to reach out, to comfort those in need.
Reassuring and Releasing
Once you have reached out, what’s next? Being available is good, but it’s not all that families need. They are looking for answers during their process. And those answers must come from a Biblical standpoint. Above all, reassure kids that God loves them and is in control. Even though something terrible has happened in their life, that doesn’t lessen the truths in God’s Word. Point them to scripture. The following are a good start. Look these up and read with them.
Psalm 34:18 – “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” God wants to be near when you are hurting.
John 11:33, 35 – “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. Jesus wept.” – It’s okay to be sad and cry. God designed people that way. Even Jesus expressed his sadness in this way when his close friend, Lazarus, died.
John 16:22 – “So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” Once again, Jesus understands your grief, and He is the one who can help you get past it.
Matthew 11:28 – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Jesus is there always. He wants to take away your sadness and pain. You can go to Him, give it to Him, and find rest.
John 14:27 – “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Grief can be a long process, but in the end, the goal is peace through Jesus.
Keep pointing them to the truth. Allow them to express their emotions and thoughts and help them process knowing God is there to help heal their hurts. Be patient. The grief process can be long and can come in waves. One week might be gentle, and the next a tsunami. Be prepared to listen and guide over and over.
The end goal is peace. Working through hard things with a plan, steps, and the help of Jesus can bring this. There will always be some sadness associated with the tragedy experienced but work towards the goal of releasing the fear and constant pain that has come with the situation. Help kids release the burden and accept the peace that comes only from God.
Be sure to involve the parents in the entire process. They are most likely struggling, too, even if they have not experienced the same exact loss. They need help in knowing what to say and how to relate to their child. So as much as you’re communicating with the child, talk to their parents too.
Give them a plan and tools to pursue the plan. This might mean a set time each week of meeting together. It could be an assignment to journal or answer a few questions. Be sure your time together is spent both listening and sharing. Let them ask questions and answer truthfully. Kids deserve the truth, not a sugar coated, feel good response. Pain and grief are serious. They are difficult to overcome if they aren’t worked through with truth. When it’s appropriate, share with them some of your own stories. Hearing others struggles can help them know they aren’t alone.
Listening can be the most important part of what you do. Sometimes there are no answers. You can’t explain away why bad things happen, and during deep grief is not the time to try. Show empathy as you hear their story and heart. Allow them to feel how they feel. Validate those feelings.
Grief can be overwhelming. It comes in many forms and levels of severity. Although you can be equipped to handle initial counseling in this area, don’t rule out getting extra help. Professional counselors are trained for this. Have a list of those who are specifically trained to work with families and children. Use this resource to pass on to your families if they need more help than what you are capable of giving them.
Once you have gone through the process in helping a child deal with their grief, don’t forget about them. Another wave could hit them at the least likely time. Check in with them frequently to see how they are doing. You might think they are completely better only to find out they are still struggling weeks later. Remember not to underestimate the power of prayer. Pray with the child, their family, and during your own personal prayer time.
No matter what kind of loss a child is going through, they must grieve it to heal. As a church leader in their life, it’s your job to reach out and make a plan to help. Involve the parents, give them resources, and show empathy as you delve into their struggle. Remember to reassure them with God’s promises and point them towards a healing that involves trusting Jesus. It isn’t easy, but the work you put into helping a child with their grief can guide them to the path of emotional and spiritual healing. As Scripture says “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted” and God can often use the times of deepest hurt to draw hearts closer to him than they have ever been before.