Hope When You've Lost a Child
- April Motl Crosswalk.com Contributor
- 2018 12 Mar
If delivering a baby is the sort of universal marker for extreme pain, surely losing a child is the definition for the most extreme emotional pain we can experience.
I’ve shared tears with bereaved mommas suffering fresh loss and ones where the years had worn on. I’ve mourned my own loss (through miscarriage).
For most grieving parents, I think hope feels as far removed as a distant galaxy. Our emotional receptors are so full of pain, there’s just not room to feel much more than the grief we are processing. And yet, as children of God, there is always the presence of hope, even in those darkest moments when we cannot perceive it.
Here are three hope-centering truths to hold on to in the midst of grief over losing a child:
1. God is sovereign. God is good. God is love.
In any tragedy, our human perspective tempts us to dethrone our Lord. When we can’t feel His love (goodness, faithfulness, kindness, etc), we are prone to declare its absence or nonexistence.
That was Satan’s entire plan with all the loss he hurled down on Job. He planned to overwhelm Job with so much grief that even the memory of God’s goodness would be so removed from Job, that he would in turn renounce faith.
The truth we must hold on to is God’s character. When we aren’t actively experiencing the traits of His character, we are living in faith. This kind of grief is so intense it will require faith as we inhale and exhale. And the enemy will most likely make the most of this time - tempting our souls to retreat into unbelief.
Before God, before your family and friends, before all heaven watching, like Job, cover yourself in sackcloth, weep, mourn, but holdfast to your belief. It is the only real gold that will be with you when you have reached life’s finish line.
2. You are not defined by this loss.
The loss of a child comes in as many different scenarios as individuals. From the mom who lost her adult child from addiction to the mom who has suffered miscarriages, the threat for the loss to define you is enormous.
According to U.S. national statistics, the leading cause of child death between ages one and 14 is unintended injury. And it is simply human to require copious amounts of reminding yourself, and having others remind you of this, so that you don’t permit this grief to become who you think you are.
Mothering is so deep, so intimate, so personal. Even if it’s solely the profundity of the grief and there’s no way to connect yourself to any sense of fault, the grief all by itself is big enough to swallow you whole. While you grieve, blame and guilt are normal emotions. But when it is your child, it is so easy to blame yourself.
After the loss of our baby, I was consumed with guilt. I knew 100 percent it wasn’t what the Lord wanted me to feel or believe, but there it was. Bigger than me. Bigger than my ability to pray it away or “truth talk” it away. Me and this monster guilt lived together for some time, until eventually, the Lord who is bigger than any guilt we can experience, removed it. But there was an agonizing time where I waited on Him to rescue me from it.
I also had long term health effects from the miscarriage. They were (and as some remain, are still) the most unwelcome reminders of our loss. They impacted my ability to do the things I wanted to do, carry the responsibilities I wanted to carry, and changed parts of me against all effort to the contrary. So when I say you are not defined by this grief, don’t think I say it flippantly. I know the loss of a child can and often does change us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
It is a fact that you can die of a broken heart. After extreme stress, the heart muscle can suddenly be weakened with no other explanation for it beyond intense stress.
The loss of a child has been ranked as the most stressful event of the human experience. Studies have found that mothers in particular are prone to physical and physiological changes after the death of a child. Doctors refer to “Maternal Bereavement Effect” to explain the 329 percent increase in the “hazard of mortality” that follows a mother’s loss.
In every sense, the loss of a child deeply threatens to change and thus define us. Marriages and family dynamics often struggle as grief overshadows the relationships until the family itself is defined by the loss. There is so much to grief we can’t control but we can, at the very minimum, ask for prayer for protection for us and our relationships from being defined by the grief process.
It is a point of pondering that could be debated, but after the loss of David and Bathsheba’s son, we don’t see him lead his family as one would hope. While it is true that his sin brought certain consequences to him and his family, I’ve heard some Bible scholars mention that it was a sad turning point in his spiritual leadership. As if he sort of deflated and never fully stood back up all the way again.
I’m not dogmatically saying David’s grief caused him to half-heartedly lead his family. Perhaps his grief over his sin caused that more than grief over the death. Perhaps that’s not what happened at all. Maybe he was indeed fully restored within himself and his leadership, and it’s just not entirely spelled out in Scripture. But it is a reality that child loss, because it is so deep and so potentially defining, can derail the way we care for or connect with the rest of our family. And maybe David’s experience can serve as a warning for us.
You are defined by your God. It is part of His Lordship in your soul. It’s His place as your Creator. Your circumstances, no matter how big they are, cannot define you. Don’t make your grief your god by giving it that place. While losing your precious child is lasting and deep, it is not the whole of you.
3. You are not alone.
U.S records show that every year, in the US alone, more than 50,000 children die. That doesn’t include the parents who bury grown children from car crashes, addiction, suicide, cancer, and more. Statistics estimate young adult death to bring that total up to 220,000 plus people each year.
Those numbers don’t include miscarriage through infant death. Records show that more than one third of pregnancies miscarry before 20 weeks, stillbirths attribute another 26,000 losses, and infant mortality adds another 23,000 to that toll. This is just for the U.S. That’s a lot of people grieving the loss of their precious child.
Each circumstance brings its unique grief; whether you never knew your little one or loved them for decades, the loss remains the most profound kind our hearts carry. Some estimate that at least 20 percent of parents will bury their child before they pass away themselves.
While the numbers tell part of the story, they are of little comfort. I dearly hope there are people loving you through this valley. I hope others who have suffered deep loss before you can pray and walk you through this time. In grief, we are perhaps the least able to reach out for people, and yet we need them the most. Whether or not you feel supported by others at the moment, God sees you and deeply shares your pain.
The very first parents suffered the loss of two children, one who murdered his brother and one whose punishment sent him away. Job lost all of his children. All of them! David lost a little son and more than one adult son. These are just a few of the individuals in Scripture who lost children. And while God’s children writhe with the loss of their own dear children, He is not far off or unmoved.
In the New Testament, we see Jesus at two funerals. Both times He grieved and His grief moved Him to reach in with miraculous resurrection (Luke 7 and John 11). I think death disturbs our Lord so much that it always moves Him to action. Whether we can perceive it at the moment or not.
God the Father gave His one and only Son for our sin - sin that causes physical and spiritual death. You think He would have done all that if death didn’t move Him? He gave His Beloved Son for the very purpose of conquering death. So, if you can, lean into Your Lord who understands. Share the grief with Him and in it, share His sufferings (Romans 8:17). Let it teach you something about who God is, who willingly endured such pain on your behalf.
The last facet of not being alone for us to consider comes from Deuteronomy. In the last pages of the book, the Lord tells Moses he is nearing his final days. Moses has glimpsed the Promise Land, but won’t get to taste it. He has served faithfully and fervently, but not without flaw. That flaw would keep him from the Promised Land. So he and the Lord go up on top of the mountain to see the Promised Land from afar, and then God takes Moses to the True Promised Land in Heaven.
This sets hard on my heart. It feels unfair to Moses. He served through such hardship and to not get the Promised Land… oh, I don’t like that. And in the past, each time I read through that part of Scripture, I took up his offense before God.
In my personal grief, there have been moments that felt unfair and have been bigger than I could wrap my arms around. While I sought God during a time when a number of losses cascaded into our family, I found a key in this story that unlocked precious peace for me. God buried Moses. God Himself did it. When we face grief that feels insurmountably unfair or just simply too big for us, God understands, and He will bury it for us.
You are not alone. And you won’t finish this grieving alone either. God will finish it for you.
“I will cry to God Most High, To God who accomplishes all things for me." (Psalm 57:2)
In the midst of your grief, I am praying the Lord’s comfort to surround you and His grace and truth to anchor your soul.
April Motl is a pastor’s wife, mom, and women’s ministry director. Visit www.MotlMinistries.org for more encouraging resources.