What To Say To The Grieving

Losing someone close to us is always a difficult thing. It’s especially tragic when death comes suddenly and without warning. Many people struggle with what to say to people who are grieving.

Sudden loss is no stranger to me. I lost both parents in separate accidents and my college roommate was killed in a car accident at the end of my junior year. Each time, I struggled with grief. There are days I still struggle. None of us ever completely recovers from losing someone.

We all need to express our grief in times like that. And we all want to reach out to the families hurt have been affected the most.

The most common question I’ve been asked I by people is, “What can I say to people who are grieving? What can I do to help them?

I’m not a grief counselor or expert, but I’ve been around a lot of grieving people and done my fair share of funerals. I’d like to share a few things to maybe help answer that question.

First, realize that there are no magic words you can share that will take away their pain. We want to, I think, remove their hurt. When it’s our turn in the visitation line, we want to offer some sort of word that will comfort and maybe bring them solace. But it probably won’t happen. If you’ve been in that situation, you know how true that statement is.

When you’re standing next to the casket of your loved one, you are an exhausted, empty shell of yourself. Distant, emotional and fragile. The barrage of people is comforting at times and at others, it is emotionally charged.

There are definitely things we can do. There are words we can say to help.

The first thing I would encourage someone to do is share a special memory. Most people who attend a visitation or funeral have a unique story about the departed. A story that the person’s family hasn’t heard. It’s usually a story about how that person touched your life.

I would encourage you, if visitation time allows, to share that story with the family. If it doesn’t, take the time to write it down in a card or a letter. Even if you share it with them, write it down anyway. Most funeral homes collect cards to give to the family later. It’s hard for family members to process everything during the day of visitation and the day of a funeral. Imagine how precious it is when they open up a card that has a handwritten note from someone that shares with them a new memory about their loved one.

Did the person who passed on ever give you anything special? Maybe you have a special photograph that the family doesn’t have. Maybe they made you a bookmark, gave you a card once that encouraged you. You don’t have to give it away, but have it professionally copied and share it with the family and let them know how much it meant to you. If you have a photo of them on your phone or photo album, have it printed, stick it in a card and leave it for them. These keepsakes often mean more than any words we can share.

I remember after my college roommate died, a friend of ours came to see me a week later. She handed me a picture. My roommate and I had taken her camera as a joke and taken a picture of ourselves two weeks before he died. I had forgotten all about it. She had a copy made for me. It meant more to me than anything else I had.

When you do get to talk to the family during visitation and you don’t have much time, just share your heart. If you don’t know them, tell them who you are and how you knew their loved one and how much they meant to you.

If you know the family and know them well, I want you to encourage you to do something. If you are close to them and they will listen to you and visitation has been a long,weary process, encourage them to take a break for a few minutes. Take them to the funeral directors office for a Coke. Tell them that the visitation line will really be okay without them. That if someone really wants to see them, they will find them soon enough. A five or ten minute break can do a family member wonders. And another family member can fill in while they are away for a few minutes.

Finally, don’t forget that the week after the death is a whirlwind. But the family’s toughest time is often the weeks after. They have personal belongings to go through, an estate to think about, and worst of all, a huge empty hole. The food stops coming, the calls stop coming, and it suddenly gets quiet.

Don’t let it get too quiet. Let them have space if that’s what they want. But invite them to lunch. Send a card or an encouraging email. Love on them.

For more information and help (outside links):

What to Do, Say, and Wear at Funerals

A Guide to Thoughtful Behavior at Funeral Homes

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Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.

When Our Unforgiveness Turns To Hate

It’s been an interesting journey for me. I’m in a place now where I never wanted to be. Check that. I’m a man who desperately needed grace, received it from God, received it from many others, but still gets a lot of grief from those who are unwilling to forgive.

So, in a way, I am in place I never wanted to be. I used to be “king of the pulpit.” I thought I could forgive who I wanted, when I wanted. As a pastor, I could look down on the sinner. Looking down on any sinner reminded me that I was still better. Yeah, I was a whole lot better. Like the Ray Carroll from circa 1989-1993 would say, “Yeah, right.”

During my book signing last Sunday, I had a couple of people come up to me and say basically, “Guess what a few people around here are saying about you?” It wasn’t nice. Then someone from work came up to me and told me a few lies that were being spread about me. Then, tonight, I got on Facebook (the mother of gossip spreaders) and saw some wonderful things being said about me.

Now, if it were the Ray Carroll of five years ago, he would have said, “UNBELIEVABLE! How dare they! I’m not going to rest until they apologize to me! And if they don’t, I’m going to make them sorry!”

Well, the Ray Carroll of five years ago has been through a lot. God has made sure of that. My own sin has made sure of that.

Let me share with you a quote from Hershael York, preaching professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was kind enough to be interviewed for my book and in one section, he let me know that fallen pastors need to find brokenness. When they are truly broken, they won’t care what others say about them:

“If you’re genuinely broken to your sin, you realize the people who are all handling it wrong were put in that position because you sinned; you had the choice, they didn’t.”

He was saying that the pastor sinned. He put them in a place of anger and resentment. They reacted. Is their reaction always right? No. Is it sinful? Sometimes.

But the fallen pastor has no right to react to it. He’s the one who put them in that place. His sin created their reaction. Darnit, he’s right. When he spoke those words to me a year ago, I struggled with them a bit. But a few months later, I imbibed them. Now, I live them. When I hear words of scorn or anger toward me, I accept them.

Those people are angry, but I put them there. They need love and grace just like I did back in the day when I sinned. And I will pray they receive it.

What’s more, I used to struggle with Christ’s words in the Lord’s prayer, “forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.” We get the idea there as well as other places that we won’t be forgiven until we forgive others. I used to have a real big problem with that. I’d say, “Come on. Surely Jesus forgives us no matter what. He’ll forgive me even if I don’t forgive someone else.”

Guess what? The problem isn’t with Christ, it’s with me. When I’m in a state of unforgiveness toward someone, it’s not Jesus’ problem. It’s mine. When I harbor the state of unforgiveness, it’s an attitude that dwells within me. It surrounds me. It overwhelms me. I don’t want to love my brother or sister in Christ. I want them to burn for the sin they’ve committed, despite the fact that Christ has washed it away.

It’s not that Christ can’t forgive me because He isn’t capable. It’s that I’m not capable of receiving the love of Christ because I’m so mired in my own hatred of my brother. I’ve narrowed my thinking to this world and thoughts to anger that I’m not even concerned with the things of God. Christ’s forgiveness isn’t even on my mind. I’d rather think about the judgment of God upon an individual – an individual He’s probably already forgiven – instead of the sin I’ve committed.

Over time, if I can’t deal with it, my unforgiveness turns to something even more dangerous – hatred. It turns away from their sin and turns into an attitude about them. It consumes my life, my soul, my all.

I know this because I used to feel this way about people. I used to deny them grace from my heart. From my life. And it cost me. It cost me fellowship with Christ. And it cost me love towards other as a pastor. And I paid.

Friends, don’t deny others the forgiveness that Christ grants them freely. Find a way to give it to them. Love is a gift that cost Christ His own life, but it is a gift we can give others through our love in Him.

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Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World is available at Amazon.com and is also available for the Amazon Kindle. It will be available soon at other outlets. Ask your local bookstore about availability.

“Waiting on Forgiveness” vs. Restoration

I’ve got a new post up over at Provoketive Magazine – “Waiting on Forgiveness” vs. Restoration.

Here’s an excerpt:

My own peak of unforgiveness came with my relationship with my father. He and I were at odds for most of my life. He was very critical of me and had trouble expressing any love for me. While I was pastoring, he left my mother for another woman and I took that opportunity to judge him, condemn him and speak harshly to him. In return, he yelled right back.

I decided to shut the door on him completely. I hated him for how he had treated my mother. People would say, “Ray, you can’t do that. He’s your father.” I’d say, “I don’t care. If he wants forgiveness, I guess I’ll listen. But he has to come to me first. And he has to mean it.”

Thanks for taking time to check it out. Have a blessed day.

How Did I Get Here? Jonathan Brink, Providence and Who Knows?

It’s 1:30 in the morning.

A few rugged hours from now, I’ll be preaching and signing some books.

It’s really time for me to be honest with my readers. I’m about to put it on the line. I’m about to publish a blog at 2:00 am Central time, when no one is up. No one reads on Sunday morning. Or afternoon. But there’s a few things I have to say. And I’m going to say it anyway.

There’s a song by the Talking Heads that says, “How did I get here?” That’s how I feel right now. As a man who believes in the sovereignty of God, a man who knows from the foundation of the world God had a plan, that He has no plan B, I am absolutely amazed that I am where I am at this moment.

Two years ago, I was struggling. I was blogging anonymously, trying to rid my head of the pain that beset me. It was there that a man named Jonathan Brink found me. Let me be clear – Jonathan Brink is not a guy I would have ever probably talked to 10 years ago. His theology and ideas would have scared me. After I fell, there was something about him that made him different from every other Christian that turned their back on me. You know what it was? He loved me for who I was. He just loved me for the person I was.

Yeah, I’m a Southern Baptist Calvinist who loves God. But guess what? After I’ve fallen, I was surrounded by men like Jonathan who loved me. The people who believed like I did abandoned me for the most part. Jonathan believed in me, saw worth in me and gave me a shot. I’ve shared with him my fears, my weakness. He’s seen the worst of me in my writing. And he cares about me anyway. I know that in this world, there are few men like him. And I’m proud to call him my brother in Christ. My friend.

In the past two years, I found restoration with God. Because of men like Jonathan, like my pastor Jimmy Stewart, I know that I am no longer a fallen pastor. I’m Ray Carroll. A child of God. A restored creation. A man who sees a broken system in the church who can warn others of what is out there.

I get calls frequently of pastors who are out there who know there is something wrong. They aren’t quite sure what it is, but they are feeling the system is beating them down. As a man who was in that system and felt the worst of it, I can console them. I can help them through it.

The church culture today isn’t the best. It isn’t what Christ wants for us, I don’t think. He wants authentic Christian community. Most of us are blind to it. I was. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand it until I fell.

I’ve had a lot of people read my book. Not just fallen pastors. I’ve had a lot of church people read my book. All of them have said the same thing – “I had no idea what pastors go through. It must be awful. My eyes are now opened to what you went through. Something needs to change.”

Yes, it does.

I have this idea that runs through my feeble little head many nights before I fall asleep. What if Jesus were to walk into our churches on a Sunday morning? What if He were to see what we were doing? Would He be pleased? Or would He hang His head in shame?

I have a strong belief that if Christ came into our communities, He would avoid our churches. He would go straight for those areas that our churches avoid. He would walk into the low income areas, the strip clubs, the minority neighborhoods, the welfare sections and the unchurched areas. He would go where our churches are afraid to go. And he would minister.

He would go to the places where we don’t want to go. Why? Because we don’t want those people in our churches. We want people in church to look like us. To act like us. To conform like us.

We’re really no different than the Pharisees.

About six months before I fell, I had a deacon quit the church and leave. It was before I ever got involved in adultery. When he left, he called me a “Pharisee.” I got really mad about that. Looking back, he was right. I was a Pharisee. I was a hypocrite. I only wanted my way. I only wanted to justify my actions. I wanted the black and white.

Thank you, God. Thank you for men like Jonathan. Men who have the voice to speak to the truth even though many tell them they are wrong. Thank you that there are people who speak loudly, even though they are called heretics. But I now know that there is love in those people. People whose love speaks louder than the judgment of those who are part of the established tradition. Your Word is true. It is right. But it is also proven over and over again through action.

How did I get here? Through the grace and providence of God. Working through others. I fall on my face, thanking Him that I am even worthy of His mercy.

 

“Captain Coward” and the Failure to Rescue

I’ve got a new post up over at Provoketive Magazine called “‘Captain Coward’ and the Failure to Rescue”. It uses the cruise ship Costa Concordia captain’s decisions last week as a jumping off point for a discussion about the church’s failure to monitor its own disasters.

Here’s an excerpt:

Another thought – we do have people who go overboard in the church every single week. People who abandon ship due to weariness, moral failure, backsliding or other sin. Some are pastors, some are deacons, some are single mothers, some are youth, some are new members. But they leave. They jump overboard. And what is the most common response?

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend.

Book Signing This Sunday

I know a lot of you don’t live anywhere near here, but for those of you who do, I’m having a book signing at Salem Baptist Church in Pembroke, Kentucky from 2:00-4:00. I’ll be speaking at 11:00 am on the topic of Restoration. There’s a potluck after church as well.

If you can pre-purchase a book, that would be great. I’ll have a few extra on hand, but I’m not sure if I’ll have enough. You can order by clicking the link to the right, or by checking my previous blog post.

I’m looking forward to seeing everyone there!

(I’ll be having another one in Greenville, Kentucky on February 3 at Rockford’s Place and I’ll post details soon.)

Fallen Pastor: New Ways To Order

I was looking online for places that might be selling my book. Found some. So I’m posting their sites and their listed prices – without shipping.

Books-a-Million: $17.59

Buy.com: $13.03

Barnes and Noble: $14.39

Of course, my publisher has been carrying the book since before publication for $15.99.

And Amazon.com has it for $15.99 and on the Kindle for $9.99.

See how many options you have? (I don’t suggest ordering it from the person who has it for sale used at Amazon for $45). Just sayin’.

If you see it anywhere else online, let me know and I’ll post it here. Thanks! And thanks to those of you who have already ordered. If you’ve enjoyed it, please take time to post a positive review on Amazon. God bless!

When The Heart Needs Healing

I’ve been off the grid for about a week and I have a pretty good reason. And it turned into a good illustration for a blog (I hope).

Last Monday, I was finished up with covering a basketball game in a neighboring county for my sports medicine job. I went to my car and when I got in, I had terrible chest pain. I’d had indigestion all day, so I just dismissed it. I started the hour long drive home and it kept getting worse. So, I kept ignoring it even more.

There came a point about halfway home that I couldn’t ignore it anymore. My heart was racing, my chest was throbbing, my head was hurting and my neck was aching. I pulled over and called Allison. She told me to call an ambulance. I explained to her that I was in the middle of nowhere and that I was perfectly fine. I wasn’t.

When I got to the county where I work, my left arm started to hurt. Left arm pain. Yeah, that kind of left arm pain. I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I drove to the hospital where I work and went into the emergency room. They got me right back and hooked me up to the EKG.

The nurse said, “Oh, you’re having an SVT.” One of them jogged out to tell the ER doctor.

“Excuse me? I said? What is an SVT?” I probably should have listened better in one of my medical classes. But Lord, that was almost 15 years ago.

“Tachycardia. Your heart is beating at 250 beats a minute,” she said.

I’m a bottom line guy. Don’t tell me anything but facts. “So,” I said, “what’s next?” A thousand things ran through my mind. Surgery, helicopter ride to Nashville, getting buzzed by those paddles, whatever.

“It’s fixable with a shot,” she said as they wheeled me to “Room 7.”

They quickly hooked me up to an IV and the doctor said, “We’re going to give you this medicine and it’s going to feel like your heart has stopped for a second.”

Not reassuring. I was concerned as I watched my heart rate race across the monitor next to me. The medicine went in and I waited. And suddenly, everything slowed.

They told me as I lay there that it wasn’t an uncommon thing, that lots of people have SVTs. Lots of things can trigger it. Caffeine, sickness, stress. The nurse said, “Looks like you’re going to live.”

I said, “You just disappointed a lot of people.”

Of course, it was an emergency room, so I had to wait a while. I had a lot of time to think. And count the ceiling tiles. And pray. And thank God for another day in this world.

Then I started thinking about the past two or three years. The tough times, the stress, falling in the ministry, God putting me back on my feet, people helping restore me, writing a book. Then I really, really started to think.

People ask a lot of questions about ministers who fall. Just that afternoon, one woman had bought a book. Her pastor had fallen and she asked a question that many ask – “Why did he do it?” I still don’t have a standard answer for that. There are a lot of issues in the book that I deal with that lead up to a pastor falling. There are environmental things, crises, relationships, and personal problems.

But as I lay there in the hospital, I started thinking about the heart condition of the pastor.

Before we are saved, the Bible tells us that we are dead in our sins and trespasses. (Ephesians 2:1) We have no spiritual pulse. That’s when God comes in, regenerates us and gives us life. We become a new creation. Similarly, Jeremiah 17:9 says, The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

We don’t expect our church leaders to fall. We expect them to be people with renewed hearts, following God. But sometimes, they sin. Sometimes, they give into their sinful passions. I’ve never had a good way to explain that to people. Until last Monday.

Sometimes, all of us, our spiritual heartbeats (which have been made alive by Christ) get out of whack. We turn from Him. The only way we can have it fixed is when we seek Him out and repent. When we do, He makes us right again. My heart was messed up Monday and I had to seek out medical help and I got it. I couldn’t have been made right without medicine. Two years ago after I fell, my heart was messed up for a long time. I wasn’t made right until I sought God out and He made me right. But even my seeking Him out was His work.

He’s never given up on me. He’s always been there, even when I’m at my lowest. Even when I constantly reject Him or try to drown out the symptoms of a failing spiritual life.

Thanks be to God for His longsuffering. May we all seek Him out, especially when we don’t think we need help – because that’s usually when we need it the most.

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Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World is available at Amazon.com and is also available for the Amazon Kindle. It will be available soon at other outlets. Ask your local bookstore about availability.

The Church and the Kid with the Poopy Pants

Oh, hey there. For those who follow me on Facebook, I was in the hospital last night. If I had wanted to Facebook overdramatize it, Iwould have said, “I HAd a HRt aTTack!! OMgoSH!” Actually, my heart sped up too fast.250 beats a minute too fast. It’s called an SVT. Look it up. I dare you. They gave me meds. I’m all better now. Got discharged and pretty quickly but I’m exhausted. I’m resting.

Yeah, I’ll blog about it.

In the meantime, here’s an article I wrote foo Provoketive called: The Church and the Kid with the Poopy Pants. Here’s an excerpt:

Does the mainstream church really want people who aren’t like them? Do they really want the unwashed, poopy-diapered kids in the world? Do they really want the below-average, low-income, low-ACT scored people of the world? Or do does the mainstream church want people like them? Do they want people to conform to their ways? People to act like them?

“Look at me, I’m a gravy boat!”

I have somewhat of an ego problem.

Now, if you know me at all, you’ll find yourself tossing your head back, laughing and saying, “Oh, really? Tell me something I didn’t know, Ray.”

This really has something to do with gravy, the world’s greatest food/beverage. I promise. I’ll get there in a minute.

In my book, I interviewed a guy I named Kris. He admitted to having a big problem with his ego. He said that his ego got way too big for him to manage. He said that in his megachurch, he loved to advertise. In fact, he said something along the lines of, “Advertising for me is like crack cocaine.”

I found after my interviews that a lot of pastors who fell fed off of appreciation and affirmation. It was like a drug for them. It was like that for me. I needed constant reassurance. Thankfully, I got a lot of that from my mom who constantly told me how proud she was of me. But one day, she was gone.

Let me tell you how I’ve been operating in the flesh for the past few weeks. I’ve got some nice business cards with my picture on one side and a picture of my book on the back. Snazzy. I’ve got postcards I’m mailing out to advertise my book signing. Lovely. There’s nothing wrong with those things. I’m happy that I’ve got a book out there that has the potential to help a lot of people.

One of my favorite quotes from Sir Conan Arthur Doyle in the Sherlock Holmes series is when Holmes says the following to Watson:

“My dear Watson,” said he, “I cannot agree with those who rank modesty among the virtues. To the logician all things should be seen exactly as they are, and to underestimate one’s self is as much a departure from truth as to exaggerate one’s own powers.”

The only problem is that some of us don’t know how to measure modesty. I get a pat on the back, a few words of encouragement and it goes straight to my head. It empowers my sinful ego. I begin to think, “Yeah, I did that! Look at how far I’ve come!” And next thing you know, I’m Alexander the Great.

To be honest, I’ve been an absolute jerk to live with the past few weeks. Know why? Because I’m the “guy who wrote a book.” Look at me.

I had a wake up call today. God put me in my place. And it wasn’t nice. Remember this verse from 2 Corinthians 4:7?

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

It came crashing to my mind today along with a mind picture.

I love gravy. It is the greatest thing ever invented. My mom used to make the best brown gravy after she would make fried chicken. I’m really keen on white gravy. It really does count as a beverage. You can pour it on anything. Bacon, fried chicken, meat loaf, pancakes. Anyway, gravy is the bomb.

If you are a gravy connoisseur, you must have a gravy boat. There are some decent gravy boats out there too. You can get them made of glass, silver, stainless steel or ceramic. When that gravy boat comes to the table with piping hot gravy, you may make notice of it for a moment, but you are really craving the gravy. When that gravy comes, you could care less if the gravy is served in a brown paper bag.

When I fell two years ago and God took my horrible mess, redeemed me, saved me, made me whole again, I was nothing. He scraped me up off the dang pavement and put me upright. For some reason, he saw fit to allow me to put a story into words that might help other people out there. I have no idea why He did it, but He did it. It was in His sovereign plan and purpose to do so and He did it.

I had nothing to offer Him but a broken soul and heart. I was a fifty cent gravy boat held together with super glue and duct tape. But He saw fit to put in me a message of importance – His message. The gravy that might help some people and minister to Him. Not my message, His message. Not because Ray Carroll is important, not because I have some great ability, but because He is an awesome God.

I was needfully reminded today that if there is anything good to come out of this book, my life, my ministry, it is all because of Him, not me. I am a broken down gravy boat. Without Him, I have nothing. Without Him, I have no voice. Without Him, I have nothing to offer. I have no tomorrow.

Lord, thank you for reminding me that I am a vessel. The worth I have comes from the treasure of your Son, Jesus Christ that you have filled me with. Do what you will with the treasure you have given to me. May the glory belong to You and You alone.