Hard Thoughts of a Grieving Dad

My family is in the One-year Season of Remembering our daughter, Kristina.Brave Kristina

One year ago today she was in severe pain and decline; the cancer had spread, and death was around the corner. Her birthday was right after we were told there is nothing else the doctors could do. June 21, 2014 was coming.

And it came and went.

As any Dad would, I’ve had all kinds of thoughts about this journey:

“Why us?”

“I want off this train.”

“I trust You, God, but this hurts too much.”

I have had some harder thoughts. As a pastor, these shocked me at first. The shock is to be expected. Someone might say, “A Christian (or especially a pastor) shouldn’t have these thoughts. Or they should dismiss them.”

That’s stupid.

I haven’t dismissed them. In fact, I find myself walking through them. I don’t know… maybe it’s because I’ve spent many years trying to run from pain, which only created more opportunities to experience pain. Or maybe it’s because I saw Kristina face her own pain with such bravery. I saw her stand tall and face her death. I got to be with her.

Her courage overwhelms me.

So I decided to stare a bit at these hard thoughts. There are several, but I’d like to share a few of them with you–perhaps you’ve had similar thoughts in the midst of your grieving…

My Hard Thoughts

#1. This hard thought comes when someone tells me Kristina is in a better place. That statement is commonly said with good intentions, but it is theologically wrong. She is not in a better place. She’s in the perfect place. However, as her Dad…

who is human and still on earth, my hard thought is…

I am the better place.

#2. A few people have tried to comfort me with their unintentional negative words. Seriously. You can’t empathize with a Dad who watched his daughter suffer and die unless you’ve had the same experience. In their effort to comfort (they mean well), their words were negative, “This is going to be a horrible year for you.” Their words could easily lead my thoughts down into dark pits. I’ve been down there before, so I usually don’t enjoy being around negative people…

…If you feel you have to speak any words at all to me regarding my grief, they better be words of life.

Or I don’t want to be around you.

(That’s hard for a pastor to think.)

#3. “Our God is bigger” is one of those phrases that kept my head above the water. Still does. But I don’t always feel that way. Sometimes I feel like God isn’t around. Sometimes in the most painful moments of grief, I feel closest to God. Sometimes I ask where He is.

Sometimes my thought is, “You’re bigger, but…

…she still died.”

#4. I am a pastor. I get to serve on a team of pastors at my church. Sunday mornings are the hardest day of the week. Most of the time I don’t sing. I stand (or sit) and listen. I look to my right, and I can see her standing next to me…

She is singing. And she looks at me and smiles and grabs my hand…

…and then she disappears.

I am a pastor. And Sundays are often my most painful days.

Many times I simply do not want to be there.

There are more, and I could elaborate more on these things. But this post is getting long. And I wish to conclude with the glory of it all.

Here Comes Grace & Truth

I’ve had to learn (still learning) the process of being authentic and honest in my thoughts, yet focus on the positive. It has to be both.

If I’m only raw and honest then I’m depressed.

If I’m only positive then I’m fake.

For me, positive thinking that works comes straight from the Bible. I try to be raw and real. And I try to give God the honor He deserves–He truly is my hope. Only Him.

I’m convinced that process works best when in line with grace and truth. When I admit my thoughts honestly to God, then replace those hard thoughts with His truth (those many promises He’s made to me), His grace enables me to continue on my healing journey. I can smile.

Real smiles.

Maybe It Looks Like This

I’ll go back to those hard thoughts…

#1. Truth: It’s OK for me to feel like I am the better place for Kristina to be. I am her Dad–it’s only natural. God cries when I cry. But then I think about where she is: in the very presence of the Creator, Savior, Redeemer, Prince of peace, the Spirit, and eternal Father.

She is holding His hand and singing. She is smiling at Him while thinking of me. And as she does, He sees me and tips His jar of peace over me.

Grace: I am jealous of her, but I get to be in that same presence soon. He has allowed and welcomed my daughter into His perfect presence, and soon He will allow and welcome me…

…all because we believe in His Son, Jesus. Soon I’ll be there and look back at this tick in time–this speck called “life on earth.” And in the bliss of eternity with my Jesus, I’ll smile at the pain I once endured for “so long.”

#2. Truth: People are people. Even loved ones hurt the ones they love most. It’s part of life. I have and will do the same to others. But God gives me peace when I think about the things for which I can be thankful–even for those who speak words that do not correlate with my goal of remaining on top of the water I’m trying so hard to tread.

Grace: Because God loves me just the way I am, I can let people be themselves–whatever that looks like. While I don’t have to be around them, I also don’t have to hold a grudge against them. And so I choose not to. And I am free. After all, they are only trying to help.

Or maybe I can be around them. Maybe I can use the words I need to hear from them to lift them up.

#3. Truth: …is not based on feelings. The fact of the matter is God never leaves me. My human feelings can easily cloud what I perceive as true…often painting a different picture of what actually is. When I act upon my perception of truth in the midst of my deepest pain, and when that perception does not match what God tells me in His Word, my pain only finds more fuel to burn deeper into my bones. Yet when I think on His truth, the clouds begin to dissipate. My perception adjusts as I see more clearly–my feelings begin to match His truth…

Grace: …He is always with me.

In all His goodness, His perfect love, His everlasting mercies…

…though my daughter has died, He pours these things into my mind and heart, washing away those clouds of darkness that hinder me of seeing the blue sky and lavishing in the beauty of His presence.

That is the God Who is bigger.

#4. Truth: It’s OK to have pain. And it’s OK to bring it to the worship alter. I think that we have emphasized so much to bring God our best: best dress, best attitude, best smile… after all, God deserves our best. But we have unintentionally told the Church that on Sunday morning we aren’t allowed to bring to God our brokenness.

Grace: And what better place to bring to God our brokenness than in the act of worship while sitting at His feet.

It’s Life…

And so I find myself walking through these thoughts. But I don’t walk alone.

Grace & Truth is with me, holding my hand just as He held Kristina’s hand when she stood tall facing death.

His name is Jesus.


The One-year post is in 8 days: June 21, 2015.

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(8) Comments

  • Kellie J Brown
    13 Jun 2015

    Thank you for being honest. It is truly what every parent who loses a child goes through. Not a day goes by I dont think of you and pray for you and your family.

    • J. Chad Barrett
      13 Jun 2015

      Kellie, that means the world to me that you pray for my family. God bless you, my friend.

  • Coppélia
    13 Jun 2015

    Chad, thank you for sharing your thoughts — the good, bad, difficult and the ones filled with hope. May God continue to reveal Himself to you. I believe you are helping others understand that it’s ok to struggle with our pain & our relationship with God. I’m thankful that somehow He helps us thru it.

    • J. Chad Barrett
      13 Jun 2015

      I hope this helps others, Coppelia Marie. Embracing my brokenness has been one of the best healing experiences so far.

  • angela casebier
    15 Jun 2015

    Chad my son chad james seals 19 years old in the year 1991 was killed . He had graduated from school in june 1990 and was killed april 12 1991 . He was working at market basket in moss bluff only one half mile from my home . I was cooking some shrimp gumbo and he said mom do you need help shelling the shrimp and i told him no its ok cause you are tired and just walked home from work . It was 5 exactly in the evening on friday of that year and he said mom im going to walk to the store and ill be back in a few . I said ok chad baby be careful and i love you . Then he left walking and 5 minutes later i got word that he was hit by a car and thrown in the air and landed in the ditch and was dead . My whole world feel apart .my heart hurt so deep and i felt my life was taken from me . I couldnt do anything but run and scream and be God to please help me and scared heart of Jesus have mercy on me . What a terrible shock . Where is my chad .what did he feel . Did he hurt long . Why did i correct him when he was growing up please God tell him im sorry i had to correct him when he was little and i didnt know he would die so young why didnt you take me instead of my son .God you gave him to me why was it so important for you to take him back . Then as time went by and i thought of everything that has happend and i said God its your child not mine its your will not mine . You know what your doing . CHAD STILL TODAY I CAN SEE HIS BEAUTIFUL SMILE THAT HE AWAYS HAD AND I MISS HIM SO MUCH BUT YOU TOOK HIM AND YOU KNEW HIS FUTURE BUT I DIDNT AND GOD I LOOK AT THE WORLD TODAY AND I THANK YOU FOR SPARING HIM IN MAYBE GOING WRONG AND HURT HIM SO MUCH CAUSE HE WAS SO SENCETIVE THANK YOU FOR TAKEN HIM OUT OF THIS TERRIBLE WORLD CAUSE HE DIDNT DESERVE LIVING AND FIGHTNING IN SUCH AND EVIL WORLD . THANK YOU MY JESUS MY SAVIOUR FOR SPARING HIM FROM ALL THE EVIL . TAKING HIM WHILE HE WAS SO LOVING SO GOOD OF A SON .SOME DAY CHAD I PRAY YOU AND YOUR WIFE SEE THIS WAY IN THE FUTURE . IT TOOK ME A LONG TIME TO GET TO THAT POINT BUT YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO CAUSE YOU WILL NEVER FORGET HER AND WILL ALWAYS MISS HER BUT IT WILL SLOWLY GET EASIER ON YOUR HEART . PRAYING FOR ALL OF YOU .YOUR FRIEND IN CHRIST .

    • J. Chad Barrett
      16 Jun 2015

      This brought tears to my eyes, Angela. Your story is painful and hopeful at the same time. Thank you so much for sharing it with me.

  • Carrie Wilson
    24 Jun 2015

    Many of the thoughts you express are many of the thoughts I have had. I haven’t lost a CHILD, but I have lost both my parents and mourn loss in other ways. It makes sense and I get it…people are people. I stumble often not knowing what to say to someone who is mourning also…even though I’ve been through it. The thing that really hit home for me was when you speak of truth. God’s truth trumps it all…without it I would be a MESS right now. I would have NO hope for the future and no DESIRE to continue to fight, to go on from day to day. As soon as I was gripped by the NEED for GOD’S truth in my life…I think that’s when the REAL change came and was CLEAR. I still struggle as I know you do and will but that point is SO important to get through and REALLY understand. Without it…there IS no hope.

    Thank you for being honest. It’s good to have REAL people sharing REAL feelings, it’s refreshing…to know you can hurt and THAT’S okay, just don’t DWELL in the hurt for too long…remember the truth and THAT truth WILL set you free. It does and it has for me…I AM free, to be loved by my creator and to live my life the way He has called me to, no matter what life throws at me. I can do ALL things through HIM who strengthens me!

    Love this and thank you again.

    • J. Chad Barrett
      25 Jun 2015

      Truth does set us free! Thanks for driving that home, Carrie!

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