6 Practical Tips for Leading When You're Hurting

(Public Domain Pictures)

Last summer, my dad passed into eternity. Then three months later, Lori's mom crossed into heaven, too.

Last week, just six weeks later, we evacuated from our neighborhood as the Lilac Fire burned toward our church, our home and the homes of many families in our church.

Here's what I'm wondering: How does a pastor lead when wading through his own grief and trauma—especially during the holidays?

You may have experienced trauma or loss this year, too. Or you may have friends and family who are grieving.

These 6 practices will help you grieve and also continue to function as a church leader.

How to Lead When You're Hurting at Christmas

1. Be a Worshipper

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Jesus belongs right in the middle of your pain. Worshipping him gives him glory and sets your heart on him.

"Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted in me? Hope in God, for I will yet thank Him for the help of His presence" (Ps. 42:5).

The Sons of Korah got it. Psalms 42 and 43 demonstrate broken hearts trusting in God. You might want to go there now and pray these psalms out loud. They're therapeutic.

When you're hurting, is God sufficient for you? Can you find peace, comfort and hope in His presence?

Worshipping in our sorrow demonstrates our faith.

 Not only so, but we also boast in tribulation, knowing that tribulation produces patience, patience produces character, and character produces hope. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom. 5:3-5).

2. Listen to what God says to You

Jesus is the Word. Allow him to speak into your life.

We found God speaking into the last days of our parents' lives. He gave us his presence and his word in our pain.

At first, he encouraged us to be strong:

"Have not I commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (Josh. 1:9).

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you,
yes, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand" (Isa. 41:10).

I can do all things because of Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13).

Then to rest in him:

Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me. For I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (Matt. 11:29-30).

And to treat others well: Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, who has loved us and has given us eternal consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.

Watch for Jesus to give you specific promptings, encouragements, comforts in your trial.

3. Learn How to Work through Grief

You might as well learn how to work through your grief.

I'm trying to face it, not avoid it. I want to work through it, not get stuck in it. I try to do something to find a little healing every da—y – or as many days as I can.

It will take longer than you want it to.

If you are bereaved, there are books that address the kind of loss you have experienced. Losing a parent is different than losing a spouse or a child or a friend or multiple family members. A search on Amazon will lead you to books that have been written by people who can help you through the kind of loss you are experiencing.

Here are a few books I recommend:

You may be grieving but haven't been bereaved. You may be grieving a loss of health, your marriage, your children's choices, your financial situation or your ministry challenges.

Whatever you are grieving is a legitimate loss. And you will be able, eventually, to work through your sad, depressed, angry or guilty feelings. The waves of emotion will ease. And you will find acceptance.

4. Make It Your Practice to Journal

We know the value of listening prayer and journaling. They are twice as important when you are struggling or grieving.

Stephanie Jose in Progressing through Grief:

Journaling is an effective way to express your thoughts and feelings in a safe environment. You can explore what you are truly thinking about without being judged. There is no wrong way to journal ...

Stephanie recommends that you: 1) understand grief, how to take care of yourself and setbacks to avoid; 2) understand the emotions of grief, how to work through them and spot when they become problematic and 3) start journaling using grief-oriented prompts.

Journaling helps us let go of things. It helps us hear from God. It captures memories, realizations and truths. Before the Lord, it helps us find our new normal.

5. Do the Next Thing.

You may not have energy for all the things you need to do, but you can probably do the next thing.

Just do the next thing.

This may be a season for you to rely on others, to let things go and to only do the things you must do. You don't have to do everything. Just try doing the next thing.

Tom Peters, in Tribe of Mentors, says that you don't need to have a big passion, you just need to do the next five minutes with excellence—that email, the work on your message, the conversation with a leader in your church. Do the best you can in the next few minutes.

Don't worry about what lies further down the list ... if you even have a list.

I think what Jesus said about worry applies here:

"Take no thought about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take thought about the things of itself. Sufficent to the day is the trouble thereof" (Matt. 6:34b).

At the end of the day, you'll feel some satisfaction with the progress you made. You're probably not working at your usual capacity, but I bet you got some important things done, more than you thought you'd be able to do when the day began.

6. Let Go of Holiday Busyness

The holidays are a perfect storm for grief. The annual busyness compels you to move faster while the weight of your grief trips you up.

Expectations are high:

  • Yours. You want happy times and good memories.
  • Your family's. The kids are excited and there are gifts and family gatherings.
  • Your church members'. The special services and the parties at church are important to them.

You're busy. Traditions at home. Extra events at church. Parties and gifts for everyone. But grief makes you tired, limits your capacity, and slows your ability to think clearly.

And then there is a fresh trigger of your loss. In our family, it was the Salvation Army bell ringers. Lori's mom was a long-time Salvation Army board member, and she always took her turn ringing the bell at a red kettle. But not this year.

You, like many others, may be acting happy on the outside while feeling sad on the inside. While feeling the pressure to keep going.

Here are four suggestions to handle the busyness without being knocked down:

  1. Give yourself grace to skip things. Let it go completely or ask others to step in.
  2. Do what is important to you. Maybe you'll start some new traditions.
  3. Allow yourself to be alone, to get more sleep and then also to be with people who make you happy.
  4. Run to Jesus when the responsibilities or triggers overwhelm you.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:18

Now What?

Jesus sees the grief inside you. He knows the demands all around you. Draw near to him, slow down, give yourself grace, and do the best you can .

Hal Seed is the founding and Lead Pastor of New Song Community Church in Oceanside, CA. He mentors pastors who want to lead healthy, growing churches with resources at pastormentor.com.

This article originally appeared at pastormentor.com.

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