The Body of Christ and the Pain of Grief

Nearly four years ago our friends Dustin and Kellie Shramek lost their precious son, Owen. In the book Suffering and the Sovereignty of God Dustin wrote a chapter about some of the lessons that God taught him--lessons about God, and also lessons about how and how not to minister to those in nearly unbearable grief and pain.

After the book was published, Women Today Radio did a brief interview with Dustin, that I thought might be helpful to reprint here:

If some female member of your household has influenced your life for Christ, share her story.

My wife has had a significant impact on my life for Christ. One thing I didn't mention in my chapter was what took place right after our son Owen died. He was delivered by an emergency C-section and only lived for twenty minutes. Since my wife, Kellie, had to undergo general anesthesia, she never got to see him alive as I did. I was with Owen in the operating room after he died while they were finishing sewing Kellie up and then waking her up. I was trying to imagine how I would tell her that Owen had died. As she was waking up she was still quite disoriented because of the anesthesia and not quite sure where she was or what was happening. But she knew that something serious was happening so she began to tell the anesthesiologist that we must pray and then she lifted her hand into the air. She wasn't coherent enough to know that she had just given birth to our first child and yet on a deep subconscious level she knew that she needed God.

This was a great encouragement to me as I stood by our son. I believe that God is so much at the core of who she is that even when she is drugged from anesthesia her first response is to call out to him. This display of faith was God's grace to me, telling me that he would carry us through.

How has Jesus sustained you through the dark days?

At first it was hard to see how Jesus was sustaining us through the dark days. Yet deep down I knew that he was. My mother died when I was sixteen, two years after I had become a believer. After her death God lead me to Romans 5:3-5, "More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." Having endured through her death I had come out on the other end with my faith intact and I again had hope that God was for me.

After Owen died my wife, who had not experienced the death of one so close, never believed that she would be able to have joy again. And while I certainly didn't feel joy, I knew that one day I would. The suffering I had endured through my mother's death had indeed produced hope. Even though my firstborn was dead I believed that I would again have joy. I had experienced God's faithfulness and I knew that he would be faithful again.

The text, though, that impacted me the most was 2 Corinthians 7:6, "But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus." During the first months after Owen's death we felt very little comfort from God. At times I struggled with anger thinking, "God, I know you are sovereign and so you are the one who brought this about. I accept that, but the least you could do is draw near to us and give us comfort." On the six month anniversary I was reading through all the e-mails and cards we had received from God's people and I was reflecting on the help we had received from his people in the Middle East and in Istanbul where he was born. Then I read this verse and it dawned on me. God was and is comforting us by the coming of countless brothers and sisters in Christ. Often we don't feel the warm presence of the Lord in our suffering, but that does not mean he has left us alone. We are a part of the body of Christ and it is through this body that he ministers to us in our darkest days.

Justin Taylor is Vice President of Editorial at Crossway Books and an elder at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois. He blogs at Between Two Worlds and is co-author of the newly released The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived.