Content Warning: This post contains a story of loss and tragedy that may bother some.
Fifteen years ago, I sat on a waiting room couch, frozen in fear as the doctor delivered devastating news.
“The little girl’s daddy, he’ll be okay. The recovery will be long, but he’ll survive.” Time held its breath as my reality began to shift. “But the little girl? She’s not going to survive.”
A few hours earlier, firefighters battled a blaze that engulfed our home, destroying everything. My youngest daughter and her daddy were trapped inside.
I wasn’t alone. After the doctor and his gaggle of interns left, I turned to my pastor, who sat with me. “How do I do this?”
His response surprised me. “I don’t know.”
Over the years, I’ve thought about his response. On days I struggled, I felt frustrated. He was the pastor—didn’t he have all the answers? But as God worked in my sorrow, my frustration shifted to gratitude. Of course, he didn’t. At that moment, who would’ve known? But he was there; that’s what mattered then.
Since my daughter died, the years have been wrought with the deepest pain and darkest days, more than I have adequate words to describe. Not only have I buried a daughter and endured the devastation of divorce, I cared for others in pain. Through two decades of pastoral leadership, I’ve learned to live out the truth in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 and offer comfort to others that I received myself.
During that time, I watched the church divide people into categories—those who were discipled and those who were broken. Somehow it seemed brokenness and discipleship didn’t go together. I struggled with that—didn’t Jesus say he came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) and heal the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3)? But I remember talking as a church staff about the discipleship process, which included studying God’s Word in groups, having conversations about becoming more like Jesus. When sorrow interrupted, and life got hard, the conversation stopped.
So the question began to shift. Instead of wondering if someone experiencing those middle-of-the-night moments could still be discipled, I wondered how. How do we walk with someone with a broken heart and point them to Jesus? How did people walk with me?
Do we fix their problem? Do we offer a half-hearted prayer, glance at our iPhone, and excuse ourselves to be ready for the next Zoom meeting? To be honest, walking with someone in their muck and mire is messy, scary, and filled with uncertainty.
But it is possible, and I think it is biblical. So, what does wholehearted discipleship look like when someone’s world bursts into a fiery mess?
First, it starts with us. As ministry leaders, we need to preach the gospel to ourselves, the good news that God saves sinners through Jesus. We need to be grounded in truth—God’s Word, reading, studying, and meditating on it regularly. We need to trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to be at work in our lives, to address our own daily need for the hope that Jesus offers, and the love He so freely gives.
Then, we pray. We seek first God’s Kingdom, so we lead others from a place of humility, asking God to remind us of what He entrusted to us—His flock, the sheep of His pasture (1 Peter 5:1-4).
Once we do that, we’re ready for this: to be ministry leaders who aren’t tempted to fix the problem even if asked, but to point people to Jesus instead of ourselves. Wholehearted discipleship points people in their time of greatest need to His hope, His grace, His mercy, for He is the One who sustains, and comforts, and heals.
Wholehearted discipleship walks beside the brokenhearted, being present. We share in other’s sorrow and pain and listen. We don’t judge, take sides, or gloss over someone’s struggle. We share the comfort we’ve experienced from God Himself, passing on to others because we remember what it’s like to hurt, be afraid, and to be weary.
Wholehearted discipleship encourages when encouragement is out of reach. It sits in silence when that is the only appropriate response (hint: it’s more often than we realize). It sits with tears and doesn’t turn away in disgust or discomfort. It intercedes when words are few.
Wholehearted discipleship leads others toward hope, true Biblical hope. Over time, we guide hearts toward not only seeing God’s faithfulness but experiencing it as we encourage others in the confident assurance that God will do exactly what He said He will do.
Wholehearted discipleship reminds others of our promised future: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’” (Revelation 21:3-4).
People are thirsty for this truth, dear friend. They are hungry for hope —to know that God sees them, that He loves them, and that somehow every tear and darkest night will give way to something greater.
What a gift to walk through the valley together in whole-hearted love, for isn’t that what discipleship is all about?
Kim Findlay is a writer, speaker, and ministry leader. She is the author of Breathing in Ashes, a self-published memoir about the death of her youngest daughter. Kim lives with her family in Massachusetts.