Families in Times of Disaster

Families who experience disasters often find it hard to recover from them. How can traumatic events bring parents and children closer to God?

by Rev. Dr. Rick Armstrong

Throughout our lives, we have read or watched the events and aftermath of numerous storms, floods, tsunamis and disasters that have affected nations, communities, families and individuals. But we don’t always consider how those disasters affect families. As parents and church members, how can we help children adjust in the midst of such traumatic situations?

When floodwaters consume homes and businesses or a tornado cuts a swath of destruction through a town, people experience change and loss at extreme levels. After a disaster, the impacted families begin a process of recovery that can last from five years to a lifetime.

Generally speaking, crisis reactions are normal reactions to abnormal circumstances. Crisis reactions can include an overwhelming sense of chaos, difficulty with “what’s in my control and not in my control” and, ultimately, anger at God, doubts about faith and questions about death and one’s own mortality.

Healing and growth occurs in cyclesgood days followed by days of deep struggle. This can continue for months and even years. Even holidays and anniversaries can bring mixed reactions as memories of what used to be and is no more arise.

People recover in ways characteristic of their age, personality and the degree of their loss and life experience. Obviously, those who have lost more have more recovery to experience. Often, some children and adults process their loss through talk and actions, while the recovery process of others might occur more internally. Recovery from disaster (as with loss in general) is an individual process; each person has his or her own. Families may wish to call upon their pastor, who is willing to listen to their fears and concerns. He will also offer words of Gospel comfort, which are the ultimate healing. And although people are never the same, the goal in recovery is to function, incorporating new experiences toward a new normal in our life together in Christ.

Children are generally very resilient, but they often take their lead from their parents or the significant adults in their lives. Younger children have a more simplistic view of death and loss while older children might feel responsible for the destruction. Still older children and adults might present a facade of joking to cover fears and anger or begin to use alcohol or drugs as they attempt to cope.

This doesn’t mean that parents cannot experience their own recovery for the sake of their children. Instead, as a parent, it is important to do the best you can in being available to your children, listening to their fears and needs, assuring them that you will be with them as God is with all of you through life.

Most important, however, is making time as a family to explore words of Scripture, songs, psalms and hymns. This will be helpful as each of you walk together through these times of transition, relying on Christ and His promise to never leave or forsake you.

Time to play, time to talk and listen and time to review what God says about “being with us always” can be helpful as your family spends time together and listens to each other during the recovery. These times are difficult, painful, confusing and frustrating. As you are able, take breaks for spiritual, physical and emotional rest and renewal.

We live in an imperfect world, but we are loved and served by a God of grace, mercy and presence in and through all things and at all times. Each of us has come to know life on earth is lived in tension, in a balance of good and evil, joy and pain, Gospel and Law, sinner and saint. Into that tension, God through Christ Jesus assures us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). He reminds us that nothing can “ever separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:3839).

Transitions have three parts. There is an ending. There will be a new beginning. And during recovery from a disaster, you, your family and your community live in a time in between. As God was with His people, the Israelites, in their wilderness wanderings to a new beginning, remember that He is with you as you and your family move to your own new beginning, one that He has in mind specifically for you. Be comforted. “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5), says the Lord.

> Go to http://mercyforever.lcms.org to see how LCMS World Relief-Human Care is bringing mercy to disaster-stricken areas.

About the author: The Rev. Dr. Rick Armstrong is a licensed marriage and family therapist at Lutheran Counseling Services in Orlando, Fla.

January 2012

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