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Posts tagged ‘loss of a child’

To Parents Who Have Lost a Child

SOURCE: Groves

Losing a child is the most difficult and painful experience I can personally imagine.

What do you say to someone who has lost a child?

What can you say? And, perhaps more importantly, what does God say?

In preparing a talk about this for CCEF’s conference earlier this month, 1 I found myself praying “Lord, here is what I know: you have words for those whose children die. You have comfort. There is something overwhelmingly real and true and good that you have for those who lose a child. Help me, help us, find it.”

While I tried to draw out a number of themes from Scripture in the talk, one of the places this prayer led me was to write a letter as I imagined how our loving Father might speak to parents in their grief. Since several people have asked me to pass along the text of that letter, I thought I might make it more broadly available as a sort of open letter expressing the direct and personal care with which Scripture speaks to parents who have lost a child. My prayer is that these words will be a refreshingly personal touch point with your Heavenly Father as you struggle through this unspeakably agonizing experience.

My dear child,

I remember walking through the Garden that day toward my children, knowing what their choice to listen to the tempter was going to cost their children for generations, including the death of their own boy, Abel. I knew utterly, even then, the grief you would taste so many years later. My heart breaks for you, my child. Indeed, I sent my son, in part, so that you could see him weep at the tomb of Lazarus, and know that my heart is undone by the grief of loss, even knowing that hope is just around the corner.

Like your brothers and sisters in Bethlehem whose little ones were murdered by Herod after that first Christmas, and countless others over the centuries who found themselves burying a beloved child, you are part of the voice heard in Ramah. I hear you with Rachel, weeping for her children, rightly refusing to be comforted. So know this: I have prepared a bottle to catch the tears I knew you would shed.

And I say to you also what I spoke through your brother Jeremiah: I declare that there is hope for your future. I will yet turn your mourning into joy, and not by some trick played on your emotions! No. I will not forget your grief and tears. But I WILL comfort you and I will give you gladness for sorrow and you will be satisfied with my goodness.

My delight and joy in the redemption I am working, and my utter victory over death, is beyond expression. I am waiting breathlessly for the day when you will get to see it too. When you will be able to see it the way I do. When you will say that even this anguish does not compare with the shalom and wholeness of the way I have abundantly more than restored what now is broken. For behold, I am creating a new heaven and a new earth and I will rejoice and be glad in my people. No more shall the sound of weeping and distress be heard among you. NO MORE shall there be a son who lives but a few days or a daughter who dies unexpectedly. Instead, I will lose none of those I have given to your older brother. And I will make my home with you and with all my children — indeed I have prepared rooms already. Together with them, you will build homes and inhabit them, you will plant vineyards and eat their fruit, and none will suffer or die on my holy mountain. I am the resurrection and the life.

Be patient still a little longer. I am coming.


Your Father

1 Audio available here.

God Doesn’t Want You to Always Feel So Guilty


After my son, Jacob, died in an accident while I was asleep in the house, I struggled with debilitating guilt.

Guilt can be powerful.

For the first few years after the accident, it felt like an all-consuming force that I couldn’t let go of but one that I wanted desperately to run away from. I hated myself so much for all the things I could have done differently that day.

I felt so ashamed, angry, stupid and unworthy. I felt like a failure as a dad and a husband. The weight of carrying the guilt was something my therapist and I worked on for quite some time. Session after session, we would talk through it. There were a lot of tears and painful discussions.

Eventually, my therapist was able to help me realize some truths that slowly started to sink in over time. None of it was overnight. And none of it was like a light bulb moment to point to that instantly made me feel better.

While I refused to talk openly about these fears, the guilt started feeding shame, and shame fed more guilt, and on and on.

Therapy is like a farmer tending to his garden. You keep watering and picking weeds, and one day you show up and something starts sprouting out of the dirt. You just have to keep showing up to do the work. During that time, I learned some really important realities while working on my guilt:

We Aren’t Defined By Our Mistakes

Early on, I beat the heck out of myself over what happened. I felt like I had failed my family. Most of all, I felt like I had failed Jacob.

The shame was permeating my entire identity. This caused unhealthy behavior, added stress and was a strain on my marriage and my ability to be a father to my daughters.

Through therapy, though, I was able to realize that one accident or mistake doesn’t define who I am. I’m still a good person, husband and father.

Healing Can Start When You Accept Responsibility

This step was incredibly difficult and took a very long time for me to work through. Although I definitely felt it, I was scared to death to say that I had any responsibility in Jacob’s accident. I fought as hard as I could and as long as I could to not accept it.

I was terrified to think what it meant about me that my decisions may have led my son’s death. What does it say about me as a father? Does it mean I am a bad person? Am I a terrible father? Did I fail my family? Am I worthy of being loved?

While I refused to talk openly about these fears, the guilt started feeding shame, and shame fed more guilt, and on and on. This put me on a hamster wheel of personal torture that I couldn’t figure out how to get off of.

Thankfully, with hours upon hours of working with my therapist, I was able to get to a place where I could bear the guilt without it continuing to rule my life. Bearing the guilt meant I had taken and accepted responsibility for what I could have done to prevent this accident. There were things I could have done differently. I accept that. I bear that guilt, but it doesn’t control me anymore.

Giving Up Is Not an Option, No Matter How Bad It Gets

There were times when I wanted to die because I felt like such a failure in my guilt and shame. I thought about how I wouldn’t have to feel this way anymore and I would be with Jacob.

But, then I would quickly realize the amount of pain I would leave the rest of my family in. What a wreck I would leave behind. My therapist would tell me, “All you have to do is think about getting through each minute, each hour, then each day. Get out of bed and put your feet on the ground. Take a step, then another step. One foot in front of the other and keep breathing.”

It felt like torture at times, to keep going, but I knew inside that I could not give up. I couldn’t give up on my wife and my daughters. And I couldn’t give up on myself. No matter how hard it gets—you can’t give up.

This summer, I stumbled upon a song from a band called Colony House that really resonated with me.

Two of the members of Colony House, Will and Caleb Chapman, are sons of Steven Curtis Chapman and Mary Beth Chapman. Back in 2008, one of Mary Beth and Steven Chapman’s daughters was killed when she accidentally ran out in front of Will’s car when he was driving up the driveway at their home. It was a total accident and terrible tragedy. From interviews I’ve seen, Will struggled with a deep sense of guilt after the accident.

In the song “Won’t Give Up,” Colony House sings about those feelings. The song starts:

I wear the guilt upon my chest
Cause I feel like I’ve earned it
And keep the bloodstains on my hands
To show that I’ve done this

Oh how I wish I could escape that day
Take back time and make everything OK
But I can’t

Oh, the pictures in my head
They roll like the movies
I shut my eyes to cut the thread
But my memory shows no mercy

It was like someone climbed into my head and pulled out how I felt and then wrote a song about it.

It ends like this:

Too many dreams I didn’t want to dream
Too many nights alone where I can’t sleep
I’ve got the devil on my back
Trying to take home from me
But I see Jesus out in front
He’s reaching back for the lonely
Reaching back cause He loves me
I take His hand because she loved me

No I won’t give up now

Sometimes our guilt feels like it’s taking a hold of us and dragging us into hell. It’s like our past mistakes are yelling at us through a megaphone, constantly reminding us of what we’ve done.

But I can tell you it is possible to find freedom from what can seem overwhelming and paralyzing.

Healing can begin when we accept that we are human and we all make mistakes. And the transformative healing takes place when we accept that our mistakes don’t define who we are as a person.

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