Families in Crisis – Sharing the Burden
by Amy Diller
One of the most difficult things you may experience as a leader is walking alongside kids and parents who are deeply entrenched in an unexpected storm of life. Whether these situations come with a bit of warning or completely out of the blue, the resulting devastation hits hard. Whenever this happens, you have the opportunity to help anchor families to God’s faithfulness as a constant presence and restorer who turns things meant for evil into something for our good and His glory.
Families have always experienced crises – serious illness, the tragic loss of a parent or child, abuse, and divorce (among others). But today’s culture draws even more battle lines in the war to devastate families. Sexual orientation, gender dysphoria, faith deconstruction, mental health struggles, and body shaming have increased dramatically among children and teens.
We need to acknowledge and help parents understand that there is a very real enemy who utilizes all kinds of schemes to attack families in any way he can. The Bible tells us that his motive is to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). In this world, there is a battle against the lies and tactics Satan uses against people. Ephesians 6:12 tells us we are struggling against spiritual forces and evil powers. Although not every difficulty we face is an attack from the enemy, he does use situations and circumstances for his evil plans.
The good news is families don’t have to fight alone. In John 16:33b, Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” It’s a statement of two very real things – everyone can expect to experience upheavals in life, and Jesus is the answer in the midst of trials. Sometimes, people can’t see He’s working to bring things around for our good and His glory, but He faithfully is.
Right now, there are families in your ministry who are hurting. They are struggling to see God’s goodness in the battles they face. Parents may not be able to grasp onto the hope that Jesus has overcome darkness and is sovereign over all things. This is when families undoubtedly need you and others as members of the Body of Christ to be the hands and feet of Jesus in their lives.
When parents trust you, they’ll more likely share their struggles with you, opening the door to support them. Before we talk about what families in the battle need, let’s first consider what moms and dads don’t need.
They don’t need judgment. They likely already question themselves and their parenting skills enough when something awful happens in their children’s lives. This brings feelings of condemnation and shame that do not come from the Lord. As fallible humans, we may unfairly assume poor parenting is the reason for trials, and our judgment can be hurtful.
Moms and dads don’t need to hear “Christianisms” either. Sayings that sound like they could be biblical are intended to offer hope but really don’t. God gives the biggest battles to His strongest people. God helps those who help themselves. God never gives us more than we can handle. The implication is the Lord expects parents to fight alone, to be strong enough to weather the storm, to work to earn His help, and to accept their circumstances should be easy to bear. These statements are not true and cause discouragement in parents’ lives.
Parents also don’t need to have their hurts shared with others without their permission. Some burdens families face deserve privacy and discretion. The source of their pain may be such that they want to be careful to only share with people they trust. Although there is value in asking others to be praying, you’re not the one to make that decision. Ask parents if you can share with other pastors on staff and respect their answers.
What is needed first is empathy. Families’ hearts are desperately hurting, and the soothing comfort of a loving response offers healing and hope. Rather than jumping in right away to find solutions for families in crisis, lavish them first with understanding and love. The balm of empathy soothes pain and opens parents’ hearts to help from you and others.
When families are in crisis, help in practical ways can minister to them, too. When they’re ready to accept help from others, come up with ways to bless them and offer specifics. It can be very hard for parents to think beyond the stress surrounding them to articulate what they need, so think practically for them. Dropping off meals, picking up basic groceries, house cleaning, doing yard work, and caring for kids to give mom and dad respite time are all things you and others can do to meet practical needs.
Parents experiencing trouble need prayer. It’s easy to say we’ll be praying for someone and forget the difference it makes to pray with them. Ask if it’s okay for you to pray for them in the moment or if there’s a place or time you can pray with them privately. Sometimes, because of the sensitive nature of the issues they’re facing, prayer in the hallway at church could be uncomfortable. Honor families by following their lead in this area.
When families experience pain, they need empathy, practical help, and the prayers of others. Offering them this support not only helps parents feel like they’re not alone, but it also opens them up to hear reminders of the Lord’s presence and hope in the midst of trials. Be the one to point them to Jesus in a genuine way, sharing the truth of His character, His faithfulness, and His desire to restore all things.