Christmas 2010 was unusually busy. And memorable. After leading two Christmas Eve Candlelight Services on Friday night and not getting to sleep until after 1:00 a.m., my oldest son thought 6:45 a.m. on Christmas morning was the perfect time to start opening presents! And, because December 25th fell on a Saturday this year, the day after Christmas was Sunday. While some of our church members might have been tempted to miss Sunday services, it would have been a bit strange for their pastor to play hooky. So I didn’t.
After watching the abysmal first-half of the Denver Broncos/Houston Texans game, I traveled to the home of one of our church members to officiate at the wedding of her daughter. I came home to watch Tim Tebow lead the Denver Broncos to his first 4th Quarter comeback win in Mile High Stadium, no doubt causing fresh break-outs of Tebow Derangement Syndrome in the likes of Mel Kiper. What a way to end the long Christmas weekend! Or, so I thought.
My brother-in-law and I were discussing Tebow’s outstanding rookie performance when my cell phone rang. It was about 10:15 p.m. The Caller ID showed that the incoming call was from Gary, my Music and Worship Pastor. As our church office would be closed on Monday, I thought he was calling to update me on his planned trip to visit his parents in Belen, NM. I so wish that was the reason for his call. Unfortunately, it was not.
Gary called to tell me that two Marines had just arrived to deliver the news — the news that too many moms and dads, husbands and wives, sons and daughters have received since the beginning of the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — that his son, Garrett, a sergeant in the U.S. Marines, was killed in action in Afghanistan late Sunday night (Afghan time) while on foot patrol (see here and here for news stories covering Garrett’s death).
As a lawyer-turned-pastor, I am rarely at a loss for words. Sunday night proved to be one of those rare moments. I told Gary that I was so sorry and that I would be over shortly. My wife and I got in the van and began the 10 minute drive to Gary and Susan’s home. On our brief journey, we prayed for God to surround the Misener family with His love and grace and for God to help us comfort the family during this incredible time of grief.
I have been around death all my life. As a kid, I grew up with parents who owned and operated a funeral home in the small town of Lake Placid, FL. As an adult, I have ministered to hundreds of families during their time of grief by officiating at their loved ones’ funerals. I even gave the eulogy at my own father’s funeral. Being able to minister to folks as they “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” has been a “gift” that God has blessed me with. But, exercising that gift is never easy.
Many pastors have that same gift. But sometimes, in exercising that gift of comfort, we begin to think that we know all the “right” things to say to a family who has suffered an unexpected and devastating loss. In our zeal to help a family who is struggling with the death of a loved one, we often want to offer neat and tidy reasons why God has “taken” their son or daughter, husband or wife, dad or mom. But, because we are not God, we simply cannot know — this side of heaven — why God allows people to die when and how they do.
I know. I know. Death is the result of Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden and the subsequent Fall. Pastors (and others) can know theology and the Bible backwards and forwards, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we can make it all better by just quoting Scripture.
Now, don’t misunderstand. As a pastor, I believe that Scripture is paramount and continues to speak God’s very own Words of comfort to grieving hearts. But, when we are trying to comfort families during their time of grief, it’s often better to let your presence — and not your words — do all the talking, at least at first. The ministry of presence and the ministry of the Word are both important, but sometimes a hug — exchanged without any words — is how God wants us to comfort others during their time of grief.
There will be a time for words — most importantly God’s Words — in the days ahead. Right now is a time for hugs. And for just being there. Don’t underestimate the ministry of your presence to someone else. You never know when you will need it in return.
12 thoughts on “The War & Death Hit Too Close to Home”
Praying for this family…
This was posted to me by someone on Facebook. Sad, but good article. I have texted Susan to see if they need anything. I didn’t want to bombard them with calls or visits knowing that others are “there” for them right now. I will show up in the space when everyone has gone on with their lives. But if you know of anything they need right now or later, please let Kim and me know so that we can take care of that or help in anyway.
Thanks. Gary and Susan will be flying out to Memphis first thing Friday morning. Garrett’s funeral service will be sometime on Monday (still don’t have an exact time). His body will then be flown back to NM for a burial in Belen. We will have a Memorial Service at Bethel next Saturday, January 8 at 1:00 p.m. I know that Gary and Susan appreciate the prayers and thoughts during this difficult time. I know that they will need “helping hands” during the weeks that follow. Thanks so much for your care and concern. God bless,
My heart goes out to your church staffer and family, you and your church during this trying time.
Thanks so much for you kind words. In addition to the death of our Music Pastor’s son, we also had the wife of one of our Sunday School teachers pass away yesterday. It has been a difficult week for many within our church family. Next week will be very emotional. I appreciate your thoughts and prayers. God bless,
We have never had the pleasure to meet in person – I am Susan’s cousin – the one that lives in FL. We have lived in the Panhandle since 1998. Thank you so much for this blog – I am grateful for your words and spot on reminder of the importance of presence and support during this difficult time to my extended family. I was able to share this blog with several people today at work some of whom are not saved – we had some interesting talking points – thanks again for this gift of words.
I appreciate your kind words. We love Gary and Susan. They have been such a blessing to my wife and I and to Bethel since their return from Germany. Words cannot express our broken hearts when we got the call from Gary Sunday night. We will continue to be there for them and do whatever we can to help in the grieving and healing process. And, while Christians do grieve,we grieve as those who have hope in the Lord and knowing where Garrett is and knowing that one day we will see him again. I hope that God continues to open doors for you and others to share the love of Jesus in the midst of difficult circumstances. Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to share your thoughts. God bless,
My heart goes out to the Misner family in the loss of such a splendid son. Our hearts cry out for grace and comfort to their hearts…even to pastor and other members of the staff and the church members as well as members of the extended family and friends. God grant you all the sense of his presence is our prayer.
I appreciate your thoughts and prayers for the Misener family and for our church during this time of grief. We will not know this side of heaven why some things happen like the devasting loss that has been experienced by this family, but we do know that God is a God of ALL comfort and that His presence and grace can sustain us even when we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. God bless,
I am a member at FBC in Alamogordo, and though I do not know the Meisner’s very well, my heartfelt prayers are with all of you. My mother and I were just talking about how we understand the theology of God taking young men away from us, but we do not understand…really understand why. It hurts so much. I watch my Mother-in-law & Father-in-law mourn the death of their 36-year old son (my late husband). From my observation of them, seems the pain does not stop, but does ebb to a tolerable level. I will be praying for God to give his peace, gentleness, and love in abundance during this time.
I often try to tell caretakers of mourners to show up “after the flowers die.” Seems we have a huge support until a few days after the funeral. Then I advise them to show up “after the grass grows.” Several months after the loss, there is a big adjustment period, and a loving shoulder is appreciated.
Thanks for taking the time to read and to share your thoughts. Your advice about the need for support and encouragment “after the flowers die” is spot on. Too often we go back to our normal routines, but the lives of the grieving families never go back to “normal.” Thanks for your prayers during this difficult time for the Misener family. God bless,