How To Recover After Tragedy

I just came out of a fairly long couple of weeks full of broken hearts for several folks in my church. As a pastor, it’s part of ministry. You don’t get to just shepherd people on the mountaintops. You also must shepherd them in the valleys as well. Depending on your personality, that can really suck the life out of you. In times of extreme loss, like the loss of a loved one, personality doesn’t really matter. You’ll find yourself totally depleted.

That’s where I found myself this week. I got the call last Saturday of a gentleman in my church who’s been fighting cancer. He’s had several brain surgeries. When he was first diagnosed three years ago, he was given only a few months, but he continued to defeat the odds. He was one of those individuals who always thought of others before himself, no matter how rough he was feeling. I can remember one specific Sunday as he came walking, rather slowly, through the front doors of the church. He had about 100 staples down the side of his head from the brain surgery he had just three days prior. I told him that he needed to be home in bed resting. However, he’d always say, “I’m still here, so God must have a purpose for me. I need to be in church!”

The call I received this past Saturday evening was from hospice. That individual didn’t have much longer. In fact, he didn’t make it through the night. I spent several hours with the family that evening. Then went through three worship services and a newcomer luncheon on Sunday. I was already exhausted by that point. But, then I had to get the memorial service planned and written. I spent the day Monday (when I normally take my Sabbath) working on the service and the message for the memorial service. Monday evening was the visitation. Tuesday morning was the memorial service, with the graveside service and lunch with the family to follow. Oh, the funeral home was a little over an hour away from where I live, so there was travel. I got home about 4:00pm on Tuesday and collapsed. When I arrived to my office early Wednesday morning, I began to stare at my computer screen. I was spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically depleted. I had nothing left to give.

I don’t want to sound like I’m whining. Actually, the memorial service for a man like that was an absolute blessing. However, I do have a question for you to ponder. It’s a question that you need to figure out, if you haven’t yet. In fact, if you do not answer this question and then follow through with however you answer it, you’ll probably find yourself struggling for long periods of time after tragedies like I just described. Most likely, you’ll burnout!

How do you recover after tragedy?

Everyone is different, therefore, I don’t feel that I can give you a cure-all formula for how to recover. What you enjoy and what feeds life into your soul will most likely be different from me. However, I do believe there are some core necessities you must work into your schedule.

1. TAKE A VACATION

Okay, so that may not be a reality to just up and spontaneously leave. Think short-term. Rather than a full-blown, week-long vacation, think a couple of days. Would it be possible for you to get away for just a couple of days with your family and have some fun. If not, how about just one day? What is it that your family likes to do. If you love camping and the outdoors, get outside. If you love the beach, go. Get away from the normal, daily routine and re-fuel.

2. BE ALONE

If you’re a pastor, I hope that this one goes without saying. You need to find a place to be alone with God. However, you need to understand that to recoup from the recent events, it may take more time that normal. You definitely need to be intentional and you definitely do not need to apologize for it.

For example, when I got back home from the services this past Tuesday, I knew that I had an elders meeting the following morning. I have never stepped into a single elders meeting without a printed up, formal agenda. I’m a little anal with things like that. I opened my computer Tuesday evening and begin to create an agenda, but then it hit me… we’ll be just fine doing without it this one time. Rather than allowing myself to feel guilty for not creating that agenda, I was intentional about using that time to be with God, pray, read my Bible, and listen to a couple of good podcasts.

2. DO SOMETHING FUN

This is similar to taking a vacation. However, I want to get a little more specific. Here’s the reality… you need to do something that takes your mind completely off of recent events. What is that for you? I love woodworking and when I’m in my shop, I am totally disconnected from everything else going on. I also love to kill terrorists on my Playstation. There is nothing else that can consume my mind when I’m being shot at on the big screen. What do you like to do for fun? Is it movies? Then go see one. Is it golf? Go play? Do you love to read? Flop down in your favorite chair and escape in a good book.

If it hasn’t clicked yet, allow me to share with you why this is so critical. It’s because YOU CANNOT GIVE WHAT YOU DO NOT HAVE!!! If you’re totally depleted, you won’t have anything to offer your people come Sunday morning. More importantly, if you’re depleted, you won’t have anything to offer your family. Recoup! Revive! Refuel! If you don’t, you might find yourself in the grave next!

Be Blessed!
Scott