Let me start with a few clarifications. My background is not medical, though I’ve been around the medical field a lot. My dad was a pharmaceutical research chemist. I worked in a drugstore as a pharmacy tech, and I’ve been in the hospital for different work, but not in the medical field as it relates to diagnoses. I am not going to talk mainly about the medical field and diagnoses. I want to talk more about the theological and pastoral side. How do we care for these individuals and minister to their families in and through our churches?
My first experience of traumatic brain injuries was at age 12 when my 14-year-old brother Richard and I were walking home from playing basketball at a school. We were walking along the road maybe 300 yards from our house. It was dusk, and a drunk driver with no license saw us as he passed three other cars. We were walking facing the traffic. As we were walking, I was in the back and Richard was in the front. I just remember turning, and here comes a car with its lights on and all these other cars. He tried to swerve and miss from hitting us to go down into a culvert, but he got me first. When he hit me, the back end of the car broke my leg and various bones, and it sent me flying 50 feet onto the pavement. I landed, rolled, and just laid there in the middle of the road pretty much a bloody mess.
There were a lot of head injuries and moderate brain trauma. My brother got the worst of it. He started trying to run. The car hit the culvert and flipped. When it flipped, a bumper came down and hit him right in the side of the head. He went out right there in the ditch. Then my mom came, all of the ambulances arrived, and people were trying to find out all that had happened. I was in and out of consciousness for sometimes hours, but it put my brother into a coma. He was in a coma for two months. They had to remove part of the right side of his brain because it was so damaged.
That was our first experience of brain trauma, which consisted mostly of various things that I witnessed with my brother. I had brain trauma and it still affects me from time to time, but not compared to my brother. When he came out of that coma, they wanted to do euthanasia on him. The doctors asked my dad if they could take his life because even if he survived this accident and operation he would be a vegetable. The doctors said that the quality of my parents’ life would be greatly enhanced if they could take my brother’s life. My dad said, “Absolutely not. The Lord will do that. Not us.”
Two months later, the day before Christmas, when he started to wake up, move his hands, and come out of the coma, I was in the hospital with my parents where my brother was in ICU. My parents took me there. I was 12, had a head bandage over my eye since the accident had ripped my eyelid right off and taken a gash right out of my skull, and had a full leg cast. I could see and could get up. But when I went in that intensive care unit and saw my brother in a coma with tubes every which way, my first reaction was that I wanted to kill that man. I was unsaved at that time. I just wanted to kill that drunk driver because he survived without any injuries at all, which is often the case. So in my heart, I really struggled with this. When I saw my brother lying there in a coma, it was tough to watch.
It then occupied most of my parents’ time as they had to be at the hospital intensive care unit all of the time. When he came out and came to, he obviously had memory problems and was put on anti-seizure medication since he started having all kinds of seizures. He was very different. Before the accident, he was a 14-year-old, straight-A student that was very involved in sports. After that accident, he was 14 but acting like a five- or six-year-old. He was just very different. He was more comfortable with kids than with peers. We had done so much together that I felt like I had lost my brother.
We were involved in a church and they were trying to reach out. My brother lived. God graced him. He was partially paralyzed on his left side and had to really go through a lot of rehab to walk again. There were various things that he had to struggle with through his days. I was unsaved and God graced me with salvation at age 18. At the time of the accident, I was 12 and he was 14, also unsaved. We were all from a Christian home and had made professions of faith, but were unconverted. When he was 27, God graced him with salvation. Two years later, he was diagnosed with cancer and went home to be with the Lord. That was our first exposure to brain trauma.
Then our own son was born premature. He was misdiagnosed several times until he was age 22—he’s 27 now. When he was 22 years old, things were just not going well in his life. We were trying to figure out what was going on, so we went and had him assessed. An MRI was done and part of his prefrontal lobe had not been developed, which explained all kinds of things through 22 years of trying to shepherd him, minister to him, and home school him because he couldn’t make it in any other venue. What really capped off his lack of a fully developed brain was an incident with a baseball bat. Some youth were playing ball while he was standing off to the side. This other teen swung with all his might and missed the ball, and that bat just went around and clipped our son. The doctor said that injury, with his condition, would have tanked him, which then explained why all of us were having such difficulty. We found that out when he was 22 years old. We wish that we had known some things earlier on, but that’s all in God’s providence. Our son is doing quite well.
There are things that you can do, not for healing but for quality. That’s the big issue: these injuries don’t heal. The best that you can do is work in rehab and help those injured to improve the quality of their life. Then, in addition, you can minister to different shut-ins in the church who have had brain injuries. You can minister not only to the individual, but also to the caregivers who have watched the lives of the injured individual and whose lives have revolved around that special need person—whether the caregiver is a spouse or the caregivers are parents.
Eighty percent of marriages divorce when there’s a special need child. I repeat this statistic: eighty percent of marriages don’t make it with a special need child in the family. Now with God’s grace, yes, we press on, but you can see the tension and the pulls in these families. Many of these families don’t go anywhere; they don’t travel; they almost become reclusive. This raises the question: How, as a church, can we minister to them in pastoral ministry?
Those are some clarifications regarding how the focus in this seminar is not going to be all about the medical information that you can find on the internet about traumatic brain injuries (descriptions, statistics, occurrences). I’m going to mention a few of them here, but if you want all of the facts on traumatic brain injuries, there’s a ton of information on the internet and major sites, even government sites that talk about this topic. I’m going to talk mostly about spiritual ministry to not only the sufferer (the one with a traumatic brain injury) but also to the caregivers.
Facts About Traumatic Brain Injury
First, I want to share some facts about traumatic brain injury (TBI):
- Diagnosis: It’s a medical diagnosis; it’s not a psychiatric diagnosis. It’s a real trauma that has occurred to the person’s brain.
- Occurrences: According to Neurology Now magazine published in April-May 2014, there are 1.5 million TBIs every year; that’s about 20 TBIs per second.
- Deaths: 50,000 people die every year with traumatic brain injuries.
- Hospitalizations: 230,000 people are hospitalized annually with traumatic brain injuries.
- Categorization: Through various different tests, the severity of a TBI is usually assessed into one of three categories: mild, moderate, or severe. That’s much like depression, right? They classify depression as mild, moderate, or severe and the scale is the same with brain injuries.
- A mild brain injury is when the loss of consciousness is 30 minutes or less. If you had an injury to the brain and you never went unconscious for more than 30 minutes, you would have a mild TBI.
- A moderate brain injury has loss of consciousness greater than 30 minutes, but less than 24 hours. That’s what I had.
- A severe brain injury involves loss of consciousness for more than 24 hours.
- Falls are the most common cause, particularly for boys ages one through four as a result of climbing trees or other similar activities, followed by the elderly.
- Car crashes/vehicle collisions (about 50 percent).
- Violence (10 percent).
- Sport injuries.
- Explosive blasts and combat injuries in the military.
- Firearms: the leading cause of death from TBIs, either people shooting themselves or being shot.
- Two major tests for diagnosing TBIs (if you have wondered whether someone might have had a traumatic brain injury):
- The Glasgow Coma Scale, which is used within 48 hours of the injury.
- The Rancho Los Amigos scale of cognitive functioning, which uses different levels to try to measure the extent of the brain injury.
- Prevention: Seat belts.
- Definition: What is a brain injury?
- The technical summary definition from one of the Mayo Clinics is: “damage to the brain as the result of an injury.”
- A more extended definition would be: a non-degenerative, non-congenital insult to the brain from an external mechanical force, possibly leading to permanent or temporary impairment of cognitive, physical, and/or psychosocial functions with an associated diminished or altered state of consciousness.
Ministering the Whole Gospel and Counsel of God
Now, we want to look at ministering to an individual, the family, and also a church holistically—not in an eastern religion sense, but in the sense of giving to the individual and to the family all of the facts of the whole gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is what they all need. We need to minister the whole gospel and His Word to:
- The whole person, physical (outer man) and spiritual (inner man);
- The whole family, since the whole family is affected; and then,
- The whole church (if the family are believers and involved in a church) because when one member suffers the whole body should suffer. It doesn’t oftentimes, but it should. A whole lot more is needed than just prayer. Prayer is important, but you need a lot more than just, “I’m praying for you.”
- The world. People are watching. They’re watching how you care for one another and our love for one another. For example, in the hospitals, they ask questions such as “Who are all these people? Are all these people your family?” We can respond that the people are all kind of family from the church. When the world sees this love and care, they will know that we are Christians by our love for one another.
Now, obviously, when there’s a traumatic brain injury, it’s a time of crisis when that happens. Take care of the crisis. Take the injured person to get checked out at the hospital or whatever is needed based on the situation. They may be in the hospital for a while if it’s an accident of some sort. Oftentimes little kids fall off of things and hit their head, and you have to really watch the child and how they’re responding. You may want to go get the child checked out to see what kind of injury it is and determine if it’s dangerous. Again, in a time of crisis, immediate detailed attention must be given to help the injured person get care.
Ministering the Gospel
On the 9Marks website, Mark Dever hits all of the key points of the gospel in his definition, which states that the gospel is the good news that:
- The one and only God, who is holy, made us in His image to know Him (Genesis 1:26-28).
- But we sinned and cut ourselves off from Him (Genesis 3; Romans 3:23).
- In His great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the Law Himself and taking on Himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn from their sin and trust in Him (Mark 10:45; John 1:14; Hebrews 7:26; Romans 3:21-26; 5:12-21).
- He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us had been exhausted (Acts 2:24; Romans 4:25).
- He now calls us to repent of our sins and trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness (Acts 17:30; John 1:12). If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God (John 3:16).
- He is gathering one new people for Himself of all those who submit to Christ as Lord.
That definition is concise and contains the key elements of the gospel. This ought to be foremost on our minds as we are ministering to an individual who has had a TBI and their family. Yes, we are caring for them; we may be there at the hospital helping them, but foremost on our mind is, “They need Jesus.” If they don’t know Jesus, we want to bring Him in through the gospel.
Sometimes God uses a crisis like a TBI to sober up families. I go, “Whoa, they are much more open and receptive.” Maybe their child or their spouse is going to die with this injury, and it sobers them up from all the temporal stuff around them to more of an eternal focus. It is going to be a wonderful opportunity.
It’s primary in all of our ministry and care that we want to minister the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not ministering just a gospel, because there’s a gospel of “health, wealth, and prosperity” out there that sounds very attractive when a person has an accident and wants healing and the injured person to be well. It’s not believing in that false gospel of prosperity, health, and wealth. It’s also not the psychological gospel that “all felt needs are met.” It’s the gospel of Jesus Christ in its context.
Now God does still heal. I don’t want to take that away. He can perform miracles. With my brother, the doctors wondered that something happened in his situation because they were anticipating that he was not going to live. They didn’t have anything to say about the fact that he came out of that state and then began to walk and talk. I say again that God does perform miracles. He does heal.
We minister the gospel of Jesus Christ that makes declarations or positional statements of who you are in Him, but doesn’t stop there. It moves to the area of obligations and how we live for Him out of love. It’s balanced. It’s not all works and put-offs/put-ons; it’s not all just that we’re Christ’s children and that He loves us dearly. It’s both. One is woven through the other. The gospel leads to balance: union and communion; declarations and obligations.
Practical Side of Ministry in Light of the Gospel: Loving People in Word and in Deed
We ought to love individuals and families in word and in deed in light of the gospel. This is all part of the good works of ministry for which God has saved us. We would do this to both the sinner and sufferer, just like Job. He was suffering. He hadn’t committed any sin, at least sin that wasn’t unrepented of. I repeat, we’re trying to be loving to the sinner and sufferer in deed and in truth.
In doing so, we minister to the spiritual and physical needs of the injured and the family. There are so many needs when this happens that you ought never to say, “Call us if you need something.” That often is the most worthless thing you can say to a person. Now, you may mean something by that, but most people aren’t going to do it. They’ll try to fix things themselves. They don’t want to inconvenience other people.
It’s better to say, “We’re coming over. Which day works best for you?” For example, my mom was taking my brother to the doctors and rehab all the time, and so it would be saying to someone in her position, “We’re going to take him. What days work best?” You just come in, you move in. “We’re going to come clean your house. Which day works best? We’re coming. So just tell us which day.” It’s that kind of thing. “We’re bringing meals over; we’re going to be involved in this thing as a church.”
Sometimes I think the purpose of the injury isn’t only for the person or the family, but that God allows these tragic situations to wake up a church. We tend to focus on one or two of the one another’s when there are 35 of them. God works through a real crisis event like a TBI to wake up a church to get out of themselves and really start focusing on caring for each other.
We minister to the spiritual and physical needs of the caregiver and of the injured. We help them deal with their own sorrow. TBIs change the course of the person’s life and probably of the family. My brother stayed at home for year after year after year because he wouldn’t be able to make it on his own. That just changes the lives of parents. You may think, “Well, we have children; they’re all going to eventually leave and then we’ll be empty nesters.” That’s not for everybody. God may just change the course there. We need to help them with how to deal with the sorrow of what’s happened, what’s changed, and how their life is going to be radically different now.
A lot of times their friends leave them. It’s very common. For example, my brother couldn’t even really converse much with his peers. They were like, “Well, he’s really different.” As a result, there’s sorrow. Sorrow is okay as long as it doesn’t control your heart. That was the problem with the disciples. Sorrow had filled their hearts.
The environment in the home is highly pressured when this happens and with the process of getting adjusted. Sometimes it’s high pressured 24/7, even through the nights, waking up, medicines, and various things going on. I remember my parents dealing with lots of seizures. My brother had just lots of them, including in public. Again, I was young (12 years old), and I witnessed his seizures a few different times. I was like “Whoa, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen a grand mal seizure right there in my brother.” It is just sobering.
Multiple decisions have to be made now. There are all kinds of needs, such as rehab, medical costs, or having to change around furniture to bring in a hospital bed. All kinds of decisions have to be made. As a result, assistance with those decisions from people in the church can be very helpful. Bring in the right people who know different things. Say, “Let’s help them with this.” Remember that it’s like a tidal wave coming at them.
Be very hope filled. They may be down, so they don’t need someone coming to help them who’s down. The injured person is alive. God is at work. There’s grace.
Be a real encourager. They’re tired; more than likely, they’re very tired.
Very little is known about the brain. It’s the least understood organ in your body. Scientists have all the organs down to rather a hard science in the sense of knowing them well. That’s not the case for the brain. It sort of mystifies even so many neurologists and those studying in that area. Some parts of the brain can compensate for other parts when the latter parts are not working. God has created us in a wonderful way. Even when an injury occurs, some parts of the brain can compensate. The MRIs will tell what might be going on function-wise but has thousands of interpretations. Brain mapping and brain scans just tell you what might be functioning, but you can’t interpret it.
Ministering God’s Word
I’m going to assume that the one who had an injury—if he or she is awake—is a professing believer or if not, that someone in the family is a believer and you’re going to be ministering the Word. Otherwise, it’s reaching out and loving them in an evangelistic way. But if someone in the home or the injured person is a believer, there are key passages of love and comfort that you can minister to them. I want to show you a couple of them.
Second Corinthians 4: We do not lose heart.
This is in light of the New Covenant and the gospel where our sins can be forgiven and we can be reconciled with the Lord, all of which is in 2 Corinthians 3. Then, in chapter 4, the apostle Paul says, “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.” Without the Lord, you drop into despair. Your life changes, there are various pressures, and when you rely on your own strength, you drop into despair. Paul dropped into despair according to chapter 1, verse 8: “For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” There was Paul in despair. As we see in the next verse, it was to teach them not to rely on himself or themselves, but on God. All kinds of things happened to Paul. But here in chapter 4, in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ and what He can do and is doing in someone’s life, Paul tells us that we don’t lose heart. He opens this chapter with that idea and he closes this chapter with that idea in verse 16, which says, “So we do not lose heart.”
This is one of the best passages to minister to people who are suffering in ways that oftentimes aren’t going to go away. Because Paul says in chapter 4, verse 8, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed.” You are still afflicted, you still have the issues, but you’re not crushed. It continues through verse 10, “perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”
Even earlier in verse 7 it says, “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” Circumstances such as health issues may not change, but the power of God can be experienced and seen in the life of believers, whether the believer is one of the caregivers or the individual that suffered the traumatic brain injury.
Further on in the same passage in verse 16, it says, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away…” That’s specific right there. Our body is decaying. It continues, “…our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction…”
Now to someone who has a traumatic brain injury, “this light momentary affliction” doesn’t mean anything to them unless they’re a believer and can get a picture and understand eternity. It’s not forever. In light of eternity, it is a light momentary affliction that “is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” You have to keep encouraging the whole family that we are not looking at the temporary.
That is such a tremendous passage for people who are depressed and are suffering in some way. The circumstances may not go away, but that they may come to say, “All these circumstances are still going on, but I’m experiencing the power of Christ in my weakness.”
This whole chapter describes how to live the Christian life, which is all done by the Spirit of God. The Spirit is mentioned 20 times in this one chapter. Then Romans 8:18 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” We’re groaning in our bodies, and those with a traumatic brain injury are very much groaning in their body. We’re looking at eternity and saying, “I won’t always be this way.”
There are a lot of Psalms that bring lots of comfort and hope. I’ll just mention a few that others have ministered to us or that we have ministered to others:
- Psalm 84
- Psalm 3
- Psalm 6
- Psalm 107
- Psalm 139
- Psalm 103
- Psalm 10
- Psalm 18
- Psalm 20
- Psalm 27
One thing that is often neglected is just being thankful to God. There’s a lot to be thankful for. This is an injury; it’s going to change our lives. This injury may be one thing that’s going to be hard, but we’ve got a lot of things to thank God for. Anything above hell is a blessing.
Key passages in trusting God
- Luke 8:43 – The story of the woman who spent all her money on doctors and found out that Christ is what she needed. Christ healed her. He may not heal your loved one or you even. But He’s there. His presence is there. His comfort is there. His power in our weakness is there.
- James 5 – An area that is often neglected is whether, in trusting God, you are finding help in leadership with the church elders. Even in a sickness, even in a time of suffering, the elders are very much involved by praying and making sure the person and family are cared for.
- 2 Chronicles 14-16 (King Asa) – When I was reading through this passage, I thought, “This is kind of interesting on many counts.” King Asa was a godly king. This is what the Word says about him: “And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord, his God” (2 Chronicles 14:2). God commends this king, but there are a few things that Asa didn’t do right. It says, “but the high places were not taken out of Israel. Nevertheless, the heart of Asa was wholly true all his days” (2 Chronicles 15:17). That is what God says about him. Then, in chapter 16, he was mad at one of the prophets for telling him the truth and he treated him harshly. Then it says, starting in verse 11, “The acts of Asa, from first to last, are written in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel. In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease, he did not seek the Lord, but sought help from physicians.” This is narrative. Now it’s very, very interesting that the Lord brings this in: it’s not wrong to use or go to physicians, but where was Asa putting his trust? In physicians. He didn’t go to the Lord. Usually with traumatic brain injuries, there is going to be a ton of physicians and medical staff helping. You can’t and should not ever put your trust in them. Your trust is in the Lord who uses them. They are a means. They’re not God, although many think they are.
There are also supplemental things that you can use in helping those affected by a traumatic brain injury. One book that is very helpful in times of long suffering, maybe even suffering for their entire life, is a book of little daily devotionals from Spurgeon called Beside Still Waters. Sometimes these individuals don’t have hours to sit there and read the Bible. There’s so much going on that they want to read something, meditate on it, be encouraged by the Lord, and some days that may be all they are able to fit in. These little devotionals include passages that Spurgeon comments on. The whole book is on people suffering. Every page is encouragement from the Word of God.
Another supplemental help is music. Oftentimes, in biblical counseling, this is a vacuum. You hear about giving homework assignments for people in counseling. I put Scripture number one and I put it in 80-point font. It’s not a mistake. Then I go back to 12-point font and include other books, other helps, and all kinds of other things. Don’t miss using the Scripture. Sometimes people say, “Here, let’s go through Ed Welch’s book” or “Here, let’s go through Paul Tripp’s book.” Those are supplemental resources. This is God’s Word and you want to be in it. Even when you read other books, what verses do they take you to? Let’s look at those verses. You don’t want to be a groupie of Welch and Tripp or anyone else. You want to be a follower of Christ using His Word.
We start with ministering the Scripture, but one area that’s almost a vacuum is ministering through good music, good theology in the music, Scripture in Psalms, and spiritual songs. When you have downtime, when no one around you is speaking, it’s helpful to have some music on that’s taking you upward to who God is, how He cares for us, and His wisdom. We all need help in that area because our thoughts will start drifting down to, “What if this doesn’t ever happen?” “What if this happens?” We start to worry and fear.
Bring over some CDs or download some songs for them in their home or use hymns that may be well-known. Just having that music on can take your thoughts up toward God. I think it’s a missing area in the area of counseling. It’s huge in the Bible: the whole Psalter.
Be uplifting friends who provide encouragement. For example, use post-its to put reminders of a whole or partial verse in different places around the room for whoever is injured. For example, “Don’t focus on the temporal, not things that are seen but unseen.” Sometimes just those small notes will help you to glorify God in your thought life. We could come up with a lot more key passages.
One thing about trusting God. A lot of times we think of walking them through Jerry Bridges’ book Trusting God to help them with how God takes care of the universe, all the way down to the minutia of their life. But now with the whole workbook in it, when you see a book like that, it’s pretty thick. That could overwhelm someone. Jerry Bridges also has a little 15-page booklet, How to Trust God, that is a summary of his longer book. That booklet may be a first start. Someone might pick that up. It’s all divided up into paragraphs. It’s an easy read, and you can stop in different places. If they’re encouraged with that, then you can say, “Here, I’ll give you another book that you can start working through that will help you even more.” Think of little things to start with, rather than overwhelming them.
Ministering in the Presence of our Sympathetic Lord and Savior
This is the whole area of prayer and praise: coming before the Lord, praying with and for those you are ministering to. Praise is very important.
I’ve been in the hospital many times, both as a patient as well as ministering to people there. When there are other patients in the same room as the person you are ministering to—for example when rooms usually have two or four patients—we’d be praying for someone and one of the other patients would ask, “Could you come over and pray for us too?” A lot of you have experienced that. What a great opportunity to make a connection. God may providentially bring someone to a hospital, not only for their help and sanctification, but to reach out and connect with others that God may be drawing to Himself.
I’m going to put a little side note in here: Sovereignty alone will not bring comfort. God never works as one of His attributes. God is who He is and all of His attributes are all together, all of the time. But if you just talk about sovereignty and say, “God was in control of that” when a drunk driver hit and possibly killed somebody, that doesn’t bring comfort. It’s a part of the comfort process, but that alone is not enough to comfort. Because what will happen is people will go, “You mean He was over that rape, that drunk driver, that death, that stillborn child? What kind of God is He?” They’re going to think it’s a sovereign despot. Even in traumatic brain injuries, however the injury may occur, God is sovereign, but He is so wise, so good, so loving, and so merciful. You’ve got to bring in an attribute study. Help them get to know their God in not just His sovereignty, but all of His attributes.
I was doing a study recently looking at characters in the Bible who had some really hard times happen to them.
- Naomi. She went out full with a husband and two sons, and came back empty. She said that with Ruth standing next to her. She said, “Don’t call me Naomi (blessed); call me, Mara (bitter).” It’s only a couple verses. “The Lord has done this.” In that verse we see His sovereignty. She really understood God’s sovereignty when she speaks here. This is what she says: “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” This is an example of understanding God’s sovereignty and only His sovereignty.
- Baruch, the scribe that Jeremiah used. He says, “Woe is me. The Lord has done this. The Lord has caused this.” He understood God’s sovereignty, but he was in the pits.
When talking about God’s sovereignty, you want to quickly talk about His goodness, His wisdom, His love, His mercy, and His compassion. He’s all-wise. This is all going to work for good. Take them to other attributes of God.
Thanksgiving is a neglected area. My mom, when all this happened and two of her boys were in the hospital, started a journal and every day she was writing things that were going on with both of us, thanking God. She was making a “Thank list.” There are enough problems. You can fill up pages and books with the problems, but in thankfulness you’re looking at: What is God up to? What is He doing? My mom still has that journal. She is a prayer warrior.
I mentioned already a lot of key psalms that you can pray back to the Lord and for those who are suffering. You can pray them and put them to music.
Ministering to the Whole Person
When you’re ministering to a person, obviously the intensive questioning is on the injury itself and what happened and took place. Then extensively, you’re going to want to ask questions in all of the different areas related to their perspective on things. Some things that you’ll want to gather information about include:
- Finances: Do they have insurance or not?
- Resources, as far as family: Do they have any friends or family living nearby? What about work? What if the caregiver and major supporter is the one who works? What do you do then? Every individual has an important place in the family and you have to explore the ripple effect in that family.
- Physical: The outer man affects, influences, and impacts the inner man and definitely vice versa. We’re holistic: body and soul. Things that impact the outer man include: brain trauma; diet; hyperglycemia; hypoglycemia; hyper-thyroid; hypo-thyroid; hormones; tumors or cancer; sleep deprivation; drugs; schizophrenia (in certain cases); mental retardation; autism and Alzheimer’s; epilepsy; and other proven diseases. Things related to the inner man that have an impact on the outer man include: camouflage living (faking it); God’s discipline or judgment; demonic possession (unbelievers) or oppression (believers); anxiety or fear; false worship; guilt and cover-up; and testing or trials.
When someone says, “You know, this person is struggling with something. What do you think the answer is?” I’m thinking this: “I don’t know.” You have to find out what’s going on outwardly and inwardly before you want to give an answer.
Then, whether it’s the one who is injured or the family, you’ll focus on the heart—the inner man, the real person. This is what you’ll find in the Bible about how the inner man works:
- Usually we have thoughts. What we know is huge. The Scriptures really address our knowledge and truth. Temptation comes with a thought.
- Then all the affections come in and link to our thoughts (e.g. “well, I’d really like that”).
- Then we make the choices to act.
In the gospel, Jesus Christ graces us with saving faith to love God and to love others. That’s a good reminder. You have the old man who is all about self and unbelief towards God. Through the gospel, now you’re a new creature in Christ and all things focus more for Christ and to grow in your faith. There’s a big difference. You don’t want to remodel the old man. For whoever is injured, we’re not looking to remodel the old man. We want to see a transformed individual and help them grow in their faith.
Ministering to the Whole Family
Personally (each individual)
The whole family must take care of themselves personally, even those who are not injured. Anyone who is not walking with Jesus won’t have much to give. They’ll be down and discouraged, and that’ll just pass on to the individual who is injured. Their hope will really be waning. This doesn’t mean neglecting everyone else, but it means that it’s a priority to take care of oneself. It’s not always about everyone else. They’ve got to keep walking with Christ and making sure that all of the believers around the one who is injured are growing in their faith.
The marriage relationship
As I mentioned, 80 percent of marriages that have a special need child in the family tend to divorce. The couple ought to plan time to be alone and talk about each other and not the person who is injured. They shouldn’t neglect the marriage relationship because the injury can otherwise occupy all of their conversations. They should seek biblical counsel if they’re disagreeing about certain things about what to do. It’s important that they ask the elders and wise people at the church to help them with these decisions.
Parenting in the family
It’s important to spend time with every member of the family. You know what can happen here. It happened with us. It’s not by choice or intent to neglect other members of the family, but when you’re in a crisis situation with one child, you often can neglect everyone else in the family. This is where the church can come in and say, “You know what, we’re going to help with the injured family member. You go out with the other kids. We’re going to help you here.” Then help the siblings to accept and adjust.
If there are financial issues, there may be government help. Ask other family members and extended family members how they might assist. Establish a Special Needs Trust very quickly. Let’s say that a child has a traumatic brain injury like our son. If my wife and I were to die and we only have our son as the designated individual on our insurance policies, any special help from the government will stop because our son has money. To keep the government help going, you have to have a Special Needs Trust put right in the will and your attorney can help you with that. Any insurance money is going to get used up quickly, so keep getting government help and having that as a Special Needs Trust.
Other things to be aware of:
- Guardianship issues: Who’s going to watch over them and care for the injured family member when you’re gone?
- People’s advice: There are all kinds of bogus cures.
- Financial costs: Be aware of debt because it can just stock up so quickly.
- Priorities and time involvement: The injured person isn’t the hub of the family’s life—Christ is. I don’t say that without compassion, but nothing is to take the place of Christ.
Ministering to the Whole Church
“One-anothers”: It’s important that the church practice all of the “one another” commands of Scripture.
Practical assistance: You say, “We’re coming in. We’re going to take over. We’re going to give you a weekend.” The caregivers may not have any money to do anything for the weekend. As a church, how you can help is by saying, “We’re going to send you away. We’re going to put you up somewhere. We want you to have time with the Lord and with each other. We’ll be taking care of the sibling.” Or, “We’ll be taking care of the spouse; go away with the other kids.” Whatever the situation is. If it’s a child who is injured, let the parents go out and have a date, or just shop or go somewhere, which oftentimes they don’t otherwise do.
Practical help can also be in the form of shuttle service by taking the injured person to the doctor or for rehab, waiting for the children if someone needs to wait on them, or offering to be on call if there’s any issue at all.
Practical help can also be in the form of financial contributions. Ask what the needs and pressures are, such as bills coming in. Don’t wait for them to ask. That’s so humbling. Just go in there and have someone get really personal and say, “This may make you feel very uncomfortable, but I’m going to ask you. What kind of debt do you have? What bills are coming in? What income do you have? We’re here to take care of you in every way we possibly can, even using government assistance.”
Appoint an administrator who will serve as the go-to person, so 50 people at church aren’t calling all the time. Have a go-to person that knows everything that’s going on in that home and what the needs are. Individuals in the church can connect with the go-to person and they may tell someone, “You have the meals for these two days,” or “You have doctor duty (taking the injured person to the doctor).” Help them so that the other family members are not neglected.
Witness to the World
The world is going to witness your hope and the hope of the believers in the home who are not losing heart as we looked at earlier. The world is going to witness your love, both the love of each one in the home and your love as a church for them. The world will pick up on it and witness the good works. They will see you loving each other practically, not just praying, and that brings glory to God.
This is not a sprint by any sense of the imagination. This is not a 10-day cold. This is a marathon that is sometimes life-long. God’s grace is sufficient so we don’t lose heart.
It’s a holistic approach. As I mentioned in the very beginning, it’s the whole gospel to the whole person, to the whole family, to the whole church as a witness to the world to God’s glory.