Growing up, going to church was my “safe” place. I loved it there. Naturally I wanted to be there Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and anytime throughout the week that there was an opportunity to go. That love for church (being around God’s children) carried into my adult years, and I did my best to share that love with my own children.
But all that changed on May 3rd of 2008 when our youngest son Jamie passed away.
The next Sunday we went to church.
That Sunday was Mother’s Day – it was a horrible experience. Some would ask “what were you thinking?” Perhaps that is the part of grief that many don’t understand. At first and for a long time, you’re not fully able to think clearly – you’re just reacting to the trauma that has happened. Drowning in a sea of emotions, shifting between moments of shock/disbelief (stunned) and raw pain. Your brain is not able to comprehend what has happened.
I continued to attend church in the following weeks, but it wasn’t the same.
Walking in there seeing all the “happy” families just left me feeling more broken (and some days angry). Sitting in the sanctuary filled with people only overwhelmed with me vivid images of the crowds of people that surrounded us in the days after his death. Whenever our pastor was on the stage speaking, all I could see was Jamie’s casket. I heard nothing he said because my mind replayed the funeral. His funeral service had been held in our sanctuary packed with family and friends. I would go to look at the screens for the words of the songs being sung, and all I would see were the pictures that were shown of Jamie during his funeral.
I always left the services on Sunday feeling worse than when I came in. I knew I needed to stay connected. But I had to do something different.
Prior to Jamie’s death, I had worn many hats in church (taught Children’s Church, Sunday School, was the Praise & Worship leader, wrote Easter and Christmas programs, wrote the curriculum for VBS and directed it to name a few).
I was not able to keep juggling all the things that I had before. I prayed and sought guidance asking God to show me at least one thing I could do to keep myself connected to other believers. The women’s ministry had a Tuesday night bible study that I had been a part of. It held no memories of attending with the boys. I committed to the Lord that I would be faithful to that and asked him for grace on Sunday mornings as I healed. It would take a while before I could go on Sunday morning and get something out of the message.
For some time, I watched the service at home on Sunday mornings. I didn’t have to battle the memories at home like I did walking into that sanctuary.
Attending Tuesday nights (in person) kept me connected to my church family and to the Word. Tuesday nights were still painful – you see, the room where the study was held didn’t exist when Jamie was alive. That area was the courtyard – the last place I saw him alive. The place where I walked him to the limousine that Friday afternoon and kissed him goodbye. The same place that three days later I walked behind his coffin to the hearse after the funeral. I still had to battle some memories every time I walked in the door to that room.
No matter how hard it was to go, I knew I could not quit going to church at all.
This verse kept playing in mind every time I felt like giving up –
“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” (Hebrew 10:25, KJV)
Many nights I walked into bible study with no makeup, my hair a mess, my eyes red and swollen from crying – looking and feeling like the walking dead. I had nothing to offer anyone. My feelings and my faith were in constant battle. Then slowly things changed.
Almost thirteen years later, I have no trouble attending church on Sunday morning or any other time. Painful memories still pop up, but they don’t overwhelm me. I’ve also added back on many hats of areas to serve. I went from being the one in need of help to one able to offer help.
I’m still committed to Tuesday night bible study – I don’t feel like the Lord has released me from that commitment. In fact, in 12 years, I’ve only missed about 5 Tuesday nights – when we make a promise to the Lord, we need to do everything in our power to keep it. When we do our part, He is faithful to do His.
PTSD, anxiety and depression are very real by-products of the death of a child. We live in a physical body, and being a Christian doesn’t exempt us from feeling these things. If you’re battling these things – you are not a weak Christian – you are human. A season of loss can be a dangerous time of spiritual warfare because we are dealing with so many feelings – that it can “feel” easier to just stay home. To avoid being triggered by exposing ourselves to those painful places. Maybe you can’t do everything the way you did before; but let me encourage you to not completely isolate from other believers. The more you isolate, the easier it becomes to stay away. The overwhelming feelings will not get easier (that’s just the lie satan wants you to believe). Staying connected (even in little ways) allows you to grieve and heal in a slow and healthy way. It also makes it easier to re-enter life fully when you’re able.
No matter how difficult it is, going to the place that hurts us the most is the very thing that brings healing.
It’s what I’ve experienced on Tuesday nights over the last 12 years that brings this scripture to life for me. The ladies that are a part of that group have been there in my brokenness and vulnerability. We’ve cried together, prayed together and encouraged each other in the Lord over the years. I am extremely thankful that God put them in my life. They’ve seen all the ugliness and now they’re seeing the beauty of the restoration. It took a lot of time and it took commitment to not live by my feelings, but let my feelings heal and live by my faith.
My Hope Endures,
Director, Ephraim Ministries