This past Thursday evening I found myself driving in a numb panic to the home of one of my few. Just a few hours earlier, I was in the middle of my toddler’s weekly trip to library story time when I received a call from one of my small group girls.
“Lauren? Kate’s sister was killed in a car accident last night. What should we do??”
The next few hours were a frantic blur—thirty minutes of desperate hope to debunk this possible rumor, realizing it was in fact true, and a couple hours of calling each one of my few to let them know what had happened. Still, I could not answer the question, “What should we do??”
All deaths are tragic. And it’s difficult (and dangerous) to quantify tragedy, but can I be so bold as to say this death was more tragic than some? When I lost my grandmother in November of last year, it was tragic. Our family said goodbye to its true matriarch and we felt a sincere loss. But my grandmother lived a full life of 94 years so it was easy for us to celebrate her and know it was time for her to be with God.
Kate’s sister, however, was only given 23 years on earth. And in the wake of her death, she left Kate suddenly without a sibling, her mother and father without their firstborn child and her three-year-old son without his mother.
So when Kate’s family asked if I could come and pray with them that night, I panicked. Of course, I agreed to come (and brought more food than any one family could possibly eat over the course of two weeks) but I could not, for the life of me, think of one thing to say to a little sister who lost her only sibling or to a mother and father grieving their first-born child. Still, the moment drew nearer when I would knock at the door of 430 Waterfall Way and be face-to-face with this crumbling family.
480 Waterfall Way…
What am I going to say to this family??
470 Waterfall Way…
It wasn’t her time to go.
460 Waterfall Way…
She didn’t live a full life.
450 Waterfall Way…
They don’t want her to be in a “better place”.
440 Waterfall Way…
They can’t even answer the question “how are you” right now.
430 Waterfall Way…
I’ve got nothing.
It was a terrifying and humbling walk up the driveway. This family asked me—the small group leader, not the lead pastor, not the youth minister, not the deacon grandfather—to come and pray for them. But I had no idea what I was going to say when they opened the door, much less how I would publically talk to God about the tragedy when I hadn’t even sorted out my theological thoughts about it myself.
The good news was Kate’s family didn’t need theological reassurances. They didn’t need answers. They needed someone to simply grieve with them.
When you lead small, when you sign up to invest in the lives of a few, you will face tragedy. It may not happen in the next few years. But the more lives you invest in, and the longer you invest in those lives, the higher the likelihood of facing tragedy. And as an SGL, you are the church to your few. When they face tragedies, you are most likely their closest and most significant link to the church. So, the question remains, what should we do?? I am in no way an expert on this topic, having only stared in the face of one tragedy but here is what I found to be helpful when death happens:
- Silence and a firm hug go a long way. The best way to be there for your few is by simply being there.
- Don’t wait for the grieving to tell you what they need. Be the one to consistently reach out.
- There will come a time, in a few years, when you can talk about God’s plan or how He can redeem this tragedy. However, it’s not an easily accepted truth or comfort right away.
- Loved ones should not be expected to “be strong”. It’s okay (and comforting) to cry hard.
- God can take our raw, honest emotions. If you’re too angry to talk to God, scream at Him.
When you lead small, especially over time, someone will experience tragedy. When you begin to wonder why you put your own kids in childcare so you can give that precious time to your few, when you cut your vacation short because you “have to be back for Sunday”, when you take time off work for sleepless weekends and practical jokes, you are investing in your few for the day they face their tragedy. Because the truth is, some weeks matter more than others. It may not make sense in the moment why you are saying yes to repetitive prayer requests instead of dinner with the relatives who are only in town twice a year. But when you show up in consistently in the lives of your few, you build a relational foundation that will hold in the weeks like this one—the weeks that just matter more. And even if you don’t have all the answers, your presence alone will make all the difference.