I can feel those early days. I can picture the white agency car pulling up to my office. As I waited, I prepped my car—the temperature made comfortable, music that would soothe dialed in, water bottles and snacks ready to go. As the white car pulled up, I met our girls’ worker as she opened their door.
Instantly, I was met with overwhelming sadness.
They had just come from a visit with their Mom. They loved it. They loved her. They loved being with her. They played and laughed and wished the time would never end. And yet, the time did end. A temporary goodbye had to be said. Unable to verbalize all they felt at that moment, they cried. They knew leaving the agency car meant they weren’t going back to be with Mom today.
A 40-minute drive back to our home—not their home—was in store.
How do you process all that’s happened in the last two hours, all that’s happened in the last few weeks, all the emotions rushing in for your two girls who sit buckled in their booster seats? How do you comfort from the driver’s seat of the car?
I wish I had a how-to guide for you—some step-by-step plan to follow that would turn your car ride around, turning the moment’s sadness into joy. And yet, even if I had a guide, I’m not sure that’s the goal.
Sure, joy is desirable; yet, there’s something necessary about feeling the sadness that overwhelms us. Grief is both real and good to express. The kind of grief that gives way to joy but is not passed over. Grief that is slow and felt deeply. Grief that cries out, “This is not right. This isn’t the way things should be.”
Friend, here are thoughts from my driver’s seat to yours.
1) Enter the pain.
As I read about the life of Jesus, I am continually amazed at how He draws near to those who are suffering. The sick. Those with life-long physical ailments. Those with demonic forces within them. Mothers and fathers who mourn over the health of their children. He doesn’t send them away when they come to Him.
In their immense pain, He moves toward them. When others run, He doesn’t.
I don’t have the power to heal as Jesus did, but I do have the power to offer my presence. I have the power to hear their cries. I have the power to listen when they want to speak. I don’t have to enter into a “fix-it” mode. I can make space granting physical and emotional safety. I can be brave when words said in sadness that make their way to anger flow out. I can sit with them, even when I can’t physically sit beside them in the car. And I can express, “You can always come to me when you are sad.”
2) Pray diligently.
We know that God has the power to heal. And I’ll pray towards that end as I offer my presence, as I sit with and listen to their cries, as I allow them to embrace the moment, making way for them to feel safe enough to express their emotion.
I can pray that the Lord would meet them right here in their pain. I can pray that they would be supernaturally comforted. I can pray that they would ask God for help, that they would trust Him with their deepest fears, with all of their questions, with their longing for things to be different. I can pray that God would give me the words to speak and the timing to know when those words might prove helpful.
3) Offer hope.
After listening and being present, I can point them to a God who loves them, who sees them, knows their hurts, and isn’t afraid.
With all gentleness, I can acknowledge what they already feel—this world is filled with trouble. There is something and someone that makes this world feel so very hard. We live in a time and space stained by sin, and we long for all things to be made right.
And they will be.
A time is coming. A new space is coming. A Savior has come. A Savior has made a way. And we wait with tears and with hope.
4) Patiently endure.
I can enter pain. I can sit patiently and compassionately. I can speak with tenderness and care.
And then, I can’t. It’s incredibly challenging to persevere. Crying, a loud wailing from the innermost part of someone’s heart, isn’t easy to sit with for very long. It’s not pleasant to the ears. It’s not the tone lullabies are created with. There is shrieking and kicking of seats.
From the driver’s seat, I remember just wanting it to stop for my own sake so that I could have a peaceful drive. I can remember pulling over because my brain was about to explode. I can remember getting out of the car and needing to take a moment to regulate my own emotional state so that I could open the passenger door and offer a hug and breathe with my girls.
It’s easy for compassion to run out. It’s harder to stay calm when it’s been weeks of a similar routine and you just want to say, “We do this every week.” And yet, we’re called to patiently endure. By that, I mean to stay committed, to remain steadfast, to keep focused on the bigger picture, and to remind yourself of your role. You get to be a safe place. You get to keep pointing your kids to Jesus as you point yourself to Him too.
Continue to remind yourself of His character, of His promises, of His work in your life.
In the car and out, in times of great joy and sorrow, we are called to love.
You should do all of the practical things. You should meet basic needs like hunger and thirst. You should consider the environment and offer a place to process that meets your kids where they are, whether that’s calm music and cool air blowing or something to distract them like a game or activity in the car. You should try all the tactics to help your child reach a place of regulation so that their brain is ready to process. You should ask them to “hold the bubble in their mouth” or “smell the flowers and blow the candle.”
And, the greatest support to offer from the front seat is to follow the way of 1 Corinthians 13:7: to love.
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
As a parent, I’ve seen that I can control some things but not all things. I can choose to love—with a love that helps carry burdens, love that assumes the best, love that trusts God is at work, and love that remains even in the most challenging circumstances.
We can love from the front seat.