After hearing about the school shooting in Nashville recently, where a 28-year-old woman who identified as a man walked into a Private Christian school and killed three 9-year-old children and three adults, my heart has been heavy. It’s not something that I can hear about and just move on without feeling affected by it. If that’s so then I might either be too busy or too numb and indifferent to feel sad for the family and friends who have been devastated. I can only imagine the pain this father must feel right now. Being a pastor of a church and having two girls around 9 years old. I can imagine what it might feel like to suddenly lose that precious daughter.
Some of the common emotions that accompany the aftermath of an event like this are anger, anxiety, and grief. Many people are processing those feelings alone, others are publishing them on social media and others are having conversations with friends and coworkers.
There are some helpful ways that I learned to work through the mental and emotional burdens that come from such events.
First and most important is prayer. I appreciate that we have a scheduled prayer meeting on Tuesday morning to pray. Because I personally needed to pray with others about this dark situation and roll the felt burden off to God. Doing that with others is even more helpful, though I also need adequate time alone to reflect, pray, and process. Journaling is helpful in this process or writing like I am now. And it’s important to do this with Scripture in view. What reality about God, myself and the world do I need to cling to through these feelings of grief, anger or anxiety? My wife Kyndall and I processed and prayed with our children on Monday night knowing that they too would need a space to work through the most recent event.
My 4-year-old son Justus came to me with a CT magazine opened to a troublesome picture in Haiti and he said “Dad look expooson…them can’t live…their home is gone”. He wasn’t moving on to the next thing and didn’t want me to move on either. He wanted to pause and ponder for a moment this sad situation and he felt that something needed to be done by us at that moment. We did do something at that moment. We stopped to think about the situation and the people in Haiti. And prayed for them. Often it’s difficult to keep my 4-year-old quiet and focused during times of prayer but this was a sweet moment in which he was moved to participate and it was sweet for me to watch as his father. My son is learning to respond to the brokenness of this world with prayer and compassion. When he sees an ambulance or fire truck with lights and sirens racing down the street he usually tells us to pray and that’s what we do in the Dollar family. We are training our children to pray so that their knee-jerk reaction to the tragic moments around us is to call on the One who is our source of help and rescue. While the gesture of “sending out thoughts and prayers” may be like white noise in the background that doesn’t seem to mean much to some because they’ve read or heard that so many times in recent years, but praying faith-filled prayers that are focused on the revealed will of God Scripture is actually doing something. It is inviting the Almighty into the situation that He might do something. Praying for others is one of the most important things we can do for them and sometimes the only way to help them. Avoid underestimating or undervaluing the necessity and power of your prayers. Praying for others is a labor of love and each of us would do well to excel in this as they Scripture exhorts us to (Luke 18:1, Colossians 4:2, Romans 12:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:17…). It is a rewarding activity through which we experience God and He brings His will and kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven (Matthew 6:9-13). Prayer is our duty and privilege. Prayer is part of our engagement in the spiritual battle in which we all are involved in (Ephesians 6:18).
Second, I’ve found it helpful to have conversations with trusted friends about situations like this. The listening ear of another is such a gift when you feel overwhelmed and so is the godly perspective and encouragement that your friend may share. They may also give some corrective insight of something we aren’t seeing accurately. Mourning with people in their grief is something the Bible exhorts Christians to do as well (Romans 12:15) and this involves our thoughts about them, sympathy, and empathy for them. This requires a chunk of our time, mental space, and emotional energy. We also need others to mourn with us in our grief and through conversations about hard things in life. As sinners who live in a Post-Genesis 3 world, we experience brokenness in various parts of our lives, including the emotional part of our lives. This often leads us to respond in ways that would be contrary to Christ if he were here. Dane Ortlund wrote about this in the book Gentle And Lowly, “Fallen emotions not only sinfully overreact; they also sinfully underreact” (Pg. 107). He used the example of himself when he saw a person suffering from leprosy in India. He observed that his lack of response to seeing someone up close suffering highlighted something wrong within himself. The overarching response of Jesus that we see in the gospels when he encountered people in their suffering was compassion. Look at this powerful snapshot into the ministry of Jesus:
35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:35-38 ESV
Notice how Jesus addressed the sinfulness and brokenness of this world:
He taught and proclaimed the gospel of the Kingdom-V35
He healed every disease and affliction -V35b
He had compassion on them -V36
He directed his followers to pray for laborers to be sent into the harvest- V38
That’s our Savior! He is the answer to the rescue needed for the lost, the healing needed for the sick, the freedom needed for the captives, the hope needed for the hopeless, the comfort needed for the afflicted! And he has trained and raised up and sent out disciples to represent him and be his hands and feet in this broken world. He sends us into our workplaces and communities to be salt and light, to proclaim his message of repentance and reconciliation. He sends with the good news of great joy, the gospel of grace and peace. He calls us to be moved with compassion, to pray and moved to share the good news, and to show his love with actions that express his heart.
Christ entered into our pain and suffered on our behalf. He took the weight of our sin and died in our place. He rose from the grave and defeated death. He did something about the brokenness, sinfulness and need in our world. He is working through his church to bring his message, show his love and be his hands and feet. He is doing something about the brokenness, sinfulness and need in our world. Christ coming back to make all things new remove our suffering and sorrow, wipe every tear from our eyes and restore all things. He is going to do something again about the brokenness, sinfulness, and need in our world.
Father, how long will the evil of violence and murder prevail. Come and bring justice and righteousness into our world. Let your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. We grieve for and with those who have lost their loved ones in this senseless shooting. Comfort them and meet them in their mourning with your loving presence. Steady them with gospel hope. Please grant wisdom and guidance to all the leaders involved in making decisive decisions in this situation that would be most helpful and both righteous and just. Give us your heart of compassion for the hurting and move us to action in helping those near to us. May we not pass them over without looking at them with the compassionate eyes and heart of Christ. May we each be faithful to pray, love and serve among those you have placed us.
You may want to listen to Pastor Chad Scruggs share about the emotions of Jesus and the hope that we have through his victory over death in a sermon he preached a few weeks ago titled Death’s Conqueror. As I listened to this my heart was comforted with gospel hope. I grieve with and for this father and pastor. I’m confident of and pray that his story and journey through the valley of the shadow of death will bring much healing, hope and comfort to many.