This past week I officiated my mother-in-law’s funeral service. She’d been married to my wife’s father for 53 years; I’ve known her for 34 of them. I watched my oldest son’s Bible study group jump in to action to serve him, my daughter-in-law, and our extended family (whom they didn’t know). I also observed first-hand the actions of my own LIFE Group back home in Tennessee, and other friends from over the years. What did I learn anew about how believers can minister in a crisis moment like death? I can sum it up in 6 ways that groups can make a difference in death – because they made a difference for us last week.
1. Prayer. It’s amazing how you can “feel” people praying for you. We experienced peace and God’s presence during very difficult days. As God’s people begin praying, good things happen. We never tired of hearing “I’m praying for you” because we knew people really were.
2. Presence. Friends and family dropped in to check on us, and sometimes we talked about many things besides my deceased mother-in-law. The conversations were healthy, and distracted us temporarily from the crisis we were experiencing as a family. Just like Job’s friends who came and sat with him for days without saying a word, there were people who just came over to sit with us and “be there.” I can’t explain it, but being around people and knowing they care makes a big difference. Don’t feel like you must have words of wisdom to impart – just giving the gift of your time can be enough.
3. Food. None of us felt like cooking – there were too many other things calling for our attention. As you probably have experienced yourself, an abundance of food is a blessing during the time following a loved one’s death. I’m writing this post just one day after my mother-in-law’s funeral, and we have a whole new round of food that was delivered today by my son’s LIFE Group – and we are still eating our way through the food that was prepared and/or bought and brought to us the day before. The family is set for a good while! It’s a huge relief to just go grab something out of the refrigerator and not have to get cleaned up to go to the grocery store or a restaurant.
4. Encouraging words. My LIFE Group members couldn’t travel 12 hours to be with us at the funeral, but they jumped into action and responded to an email I sent them. After I told them my mother-in-law had died, the encouraging words began pouring in. I’ve read and re-read their emails to us. The words, “I’m praying for you” and “How can we help?” are spirit-lifters.
5. Social media. Before my mother-in-law passed away, my wife traveled home to Dallas to be with her. I asked for prayer through FaceBook, and was so thankful to the 100+ people who posted prayers and kind words – from all around the country. It helped us get the word out quickly, and I’m very thankful for this and other social media tools that help us communicate quickly. Before it was all over, people from around the country were praying for my mother-in-law.
6. Acts of kindness. We flew my college-age son home to Tennessee so he could get back to his summer classes following the funeral (my wife and I were still in Texas and would follow him a couple of days later after seeing to some of my mother-in-law’s affairs). I asked for help to get my son home from the airport in Tennessee, and Leon and Ann, two members of my LIFE Group, drove 30 miles to pick up my son at the airport in Nashville. They graciously transported him to our home, and gave him some food and a restaurant gift card to tide him over until we got home! A friend and co-worker, Lynn, and his wife Mary, offered to dog-sit for us (which saved a $25/day kennel fee); another member of my LIFE Group led the Bible study because I was out of town. These “little” acts of kindness made a big difference – bigger than you might think. They all added up – so don’t skip something if you have a chance to minister in the time of death – even little acts compounded upon one another will eventually grow into a beautiful gift of grace.
We will be forever in debt to all the people who made a difficult time much easier. If you lead a LIFE Group, Sunday School class, or other Bible study group, and a group member experiences a death in their family, please guide your group to step up and serve that person and their family. I experienced God’s love for our family through the outpouring of His grace through His people. What a privilege to be able to serve people who are in crisis, and how humbling it is to be on the receiving end of God’s grace!