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How to Comfort Those Bereaved by Tragedy (A Personal Story)


(Today the bereaved family and community attended the funeral service for 29-year old deputy, Zackari Parrish was held in Colorado. One pastor and close family friend offers some biblical perspective that helps us frame this tragedy and better navigate the difficulties of our own lives.)

Trust in the Midst of Tragedy – Reflections on the Life and Impact of Deputy Zackari Parrish

In the midst of tragedy, we always have choices. Do we believe what our emotions tell us when we are devastated and raw? Do we rely on what we see with our human eyes when our perspective can often be severely jaded? Do we trust in what we know to be true about the person and purposes of God, even when life is random and broken? These choices are real, and sometimes daily, for all of us. They are particularly important, especially when disaster strikes close to home.

A Call and a Prayer When Bereaved

Last Sunday morning my wife received a call from her dear friend, Michelle. (Michelle and her husband, Tim, are the newest board members of our ministry). Within moments of receiving the news about the tragic shooting of her son-in-law, Deputy Zackari Parish, Michelle reached out to my wife and me for prayer and support.

You’ve likely seen the heartbreaking story on national news. Zackari, along with four other Douglas County police officers were assaulted by a mentally-ill gunman in the early morning hours on Sunday, December 31. Zackari was the only officer to lose his life while trying to help the suspect.

After receiving Michelle’s call, my wife and I headed straight to Zackari and Gracie Parish’s home. Gracie and her father Tim were with the police at the county morgue identifying Zackari’s body. Gathered at the home, we joined Gracie’s two little girls, her siblings and their spouses, another pastor, a family friend and the victim assistance officers from the sheriff’s department.

Everyone was at a loss for words. Tears flowed. Bewilderment prevailed. Grief was palpable. The tragedy was surreal leaving everyone in shock.

Michelle asked me to lead the shattered family in prayer as we gathered in the den. Certainly, in my decades of pastoral ministry, I have been in similar situations. Most of us have. But, honestly, what do you pray in a moment like this? I desperately needed the comfort, wisdom, and words of the Holy Spirit to minister to this broken family.

Praying and Trusting the Truth When Bereaved

In those difficult and intimate moments, as I prayed, the Lord helped me with some core certainties from Scripture that guided my heart and shaped my words. The words I prayed are beliefs we must all embrace in the midst of tragedy.

“The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” – The familiarity of this verse (Job 1:21) in no way diminishes its relevance and power. When Job experienced devastating loss, he made the deliberate choice to trust the assurance of God’s character, over and above the immediate circumstances.

At a memorial service earlier this week, Gracie, the newly-widowed young mother, boldly affirmed “Blessed be his name.” (See her testimony HERE) From a broken heart and through profuse tears, Gracie has received God’s grace to trust steadfastly in the name and character of her Savior.

“This day is very bad, but You are good” – As we prayed together last Sunday morning, we knew evil had temporarily triumphed. Yet, this overwhelming and temporary exhibition of evil paled in comparison to the ever faithful and overarching goodness of God. Psalm 119:68 affirms, “You are good and do good;” This is always true regardless of the circumstance, but we need grace to embrace it.

“This entire situation is entirely unfair, but You are just”– The fact that a young, vibrant, and loving police officer, husband and dad would have his life suddenly snuffed out was so very wrong. Yet, God’s justice prevails—if not evidently in this life—assuredly in eternity. Through all the wrongs of this earthly journey, God is a perfect scorekeeper and his eternal scoreboard is always right and final.

“This moment is so senseless and out of control, but You are sovereign” – The Eternal Creator of the universe is all-knowing, all-powerful, and always present. When life does not make sense, we know that he is at work to redeem all things for his glory. As difficult as it is, he will enable us to trust his purposes.

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As a lead pastor for nearly three decades, Daniel Henderson helped several congregations experience transformation and renewal through an extraordinary commitment to prayer. Daniel now serves as founder and president of Strategic Renewal and is the national director for The 6.4 Fellowship. As a “pastor to pastors,“ he leads renewal experiences in local churches, speaks in a variety of leadership conferences, and coaches pastors across North America and beyond. Daniel is the author of over a dozen books, including, Old Paths, New Power: Awakening Your Church Through Prayer and the Ministry of The Word, Transforming Prayer: How Everything Changes When You Seek God’s Face, Transforming Presence: How The Holy Spirit Changes Everything - From The Inside Out, and Glorious Finish: Keeping Your Eye on the Prize of Eternity in a Time of Pastoral Failings.