Ministering in the Midst of Personal Grief



By Julie Floyd

When you work in the church world for a length of time, you begin to see patterns. One I have noticed is that deaths often seem to come in waves. My husband is a rural church pastor and can often go months without needing to perform a funeral. Then, like the last two weeks, he will have three in rapid succession.

In this same time, death hit my family as well. A few weeks ago, my mom’s identical twin sister died suddenly. Three days later, her oldest sister died of breast cancer. Two amazing women, gone far too young. I flew to my hometown and stayed for 10 days. Cried, laughed, remembered. Returned home. My heart is still heavy with this grief but I was reminded of how taking time for intentional grieving can be water for the soul.

I think ministers especially forget this. We often get so caught up in shepherding others and forget how important our wellbeing is. We must find ways to grieve when loss comes. How do we do this?

  1. Know yourself. Everyone grieves differently, and your grief may not look like someone else’s in the same situation. It is OK to feel what you feel when you feel it. Maybe you will cry at a funeral, or when you are alone at night, or not at all. You might want to be around a lot of people or desire solitude. Be self-aware enough to know when your desires might become unhealthy, such as sleeping or eating to excess or not at all. However, give yourself grace to grieve as you uniquely need to.
  2. Take some time off of leading your ministry groups. If you read that and laughed to yourself thinking, “I can’t do that,” you, most of all, need to. Others can respect this time of grieving and take care of things on the ministry front. Are you the kind of person that wants to stay busy in the midst of grief? Great! Go make a casserole, build something, or go fishing. Don’t try to continue life as though nothing has happened. This doesn’t model healthy grieving for our youth, and it makes you a less healthy leader. Take the time off. You need it and those who follow you need to see you doing this.
  3. Set an appointment with a counselor. Talking with friends and family in times of grief is awesome, but you need a professional counselor. Those of us who are used to ministering to others frequently have a hard time allowing people to minister to us. So hire someone to do this. Find someone that you can pay to listen to you and help you develop productive coping skills in the midst of pain. If you have health insurance, check to see if this might be covered! Otherwise, consider it a wise investment for your wellbeing.

These tips boil down to one thing: Allow yourself to grieve. As my sweet cousin so eloquently stated, you only loose your mom once. This person was special to you. This person’s life mattered. Your life, and your ability to grieve, matters.