by Jill St. John
Before and after. That is how some events forever mark the timelines of our lives. February 9, 2019 is one of those dates for our family. I awoke that cold Saturday morning excited for a fun day with our daughter, who was home from college for the first time. Plans included a favorite coffee shop, playing games by the fire, and a comfort food family dinner.
None of that happened after the phone rang. My brother, Toby, was on the other end, tearfully telling me that our other brother, Tyler, age 41, had just died of a massive heart attack. “No, no, dear Jesus, no…” Things became a blur. I told my husband, Jason, and our teen-age kids. I called Mom, twelve hours away, assuring her we would be there as soon as possible. I left a message for Tyler’s wife, telling her and my two precious teenage nephews how heartbroken we were and that we would be on our way to help and support however they needed. Our church family and neighbors came to our home, prayed with us, brought food, gave money for the trip, offered anything and everything.
Jason and I went the next day and began an excruciating week of funeral planning and arrangements for the family farm that Tyler had been running for three years, since our Dad had suddenly passed away. It started to sink in that my beloved “little” brother (nearly a foot taller than I) was gone.
My heart still aches and tears still spill months later. Life is hard and God is still good. Grief is real. Life and ministry go on. Responsibilities and meetings and services and weddings and others’ needs and losses and surgeries and heartaches. I want to be there and minister as I have for years, and my capacity to be and do for others is diminished in this season of grief.
And then there’s our Jesus—showing us how to move through grief. Jesus’ cousin and personal baptizer, *John (the Baptist), died—tragically and senselessly murdered. Jesus is quoted in Luke 7:28 that none who have lived are greater than John the Baptist. Jesus loved and respected his cousin John; his death was a deep, personal loss for Jesus. In Jesus’ response to this personal crisis, we see a pattern for how to grieve and continue in ministry/leadership: As soon as Jesus heard the news*, He left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. (Matthew 14:13 NLT)
That is exactly what I needed to do when Tyler died. I love to be with people, but I needed to be alone with God. I needed to cry out to Him about this awful loss, praying through the layers and complex effects of losing Tyler. I needed our Great Physician to tend to my emotions, comfort my broken heart, and give me strength. In times of personal crisis, we need to go to a “remote area to be alone”—step back from ministry for a season in order to process and allow God to do His mending work.
Jesus continues to show us how it’s done: But the crowds heard where He was headed and followed…. (Matthew 14:13b NLT) They didn’t leave Him alone! His response? Jesus saw the huge crowd as He stepped from the boat, and He had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:14 NLT) After the healings, all those people were hungry and had no food, so Jesus took five loaves and two fish, feeding about 5,000 men, in addition to all the women and children! (Matthew 14:17-21) His divine compassion faileth not! But immediately after this, Jesus sends the disciples across the lake and the people home. “He went up into the hills by Himself to pray.” (Matthew 14:22-23) Jesus: alone, praying. That is His pattern for us to follow in times of personal crisis. We may step back and head off to that remote spot to pray and “the crowd” still shows up with needs to be met. God will give us what we need to minister. And as Jesus did, we must insist upon time alone with God, praying. That is critical for us to heal and continue in effective ministry. Having the support of church family and good, Godly counseling is also essential.
I miss my brother tremendously. Grief is real. Life is hard and God is good. God has faithfully blessed us in many ways, like the day He made the snow stop and the sun shine so we could have the farm equipment sale. There have been many difficult changes. There are more to come. What will I do? Get alone with God. And pray.
Jill St. John, once a high school English teacher, is an ordained minister in the Assemblies of God. She serves as Co-Pastor alongside her husband, Jason. For the last 23 years, they have served at Evangel Church in Kansas City: 6 years as youth pastors, 17 years as lead pastors. Jill has a passion for Jesus and a zeal for teaching God’s Word – helping others walk in God’s love and purpose. As a 4-time cancer survivor, she knows the goodness of God through the highs and lows of life and ministry. Jill is an authentic, enthusiastic messenger of God’s joy and hope. Teaching, cooking, laughing and hanging out with her husband and two children are the delights of her life!