…beware of hollow comforts in the face of tragedy…

Like so many today I have read the news updates as they have come in and been updated regarding the tragedy in Connecticut. I have a four-year old daughter and a nearly one year old son and to imagine the distress and pain that the moms, dads, brothers, sisters, friends,  and grandparents are feeling today is almost impossible.

I’ve lived long enough to experience a few defining tragedies in America’s relatively brief history. The Challenger explosion, the Oklahoma City bombing, the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the Columbine shooting, and others have dotted the landscape of my life. There is a unique distress that comes from these situations, it’s not merely a sadness, it is an emptiness, a hollow vortex that feels like it’s trying to cave in your soul and leave a perpetual hollow place. The threat of these hollow moments are not just that they are there, but that they will never be filled. There is national pain because there is personal pain. We are a nation made up of people who have seen enough reports of danger and calamity in living color on the nightly news that we have a unique connection in the hurt with those who have had their lives upended.

The last count at the time of this writing was 26 dead including 18 children, I have no idea what that count will finish at, though my deepest hope is that it goes no higher. I’ve seen far too many people, on both sides of the issue, courting their own message of either stricter gun-control laws or the need for increased civilian gun ownership and concealed carry permits. I’ve read many tweets, Facebook posts, and blogs that indicate there are prayers being offered and others who are fed up with “prayers” and want to see action. Some are sick, others are disgusted, still others are paralyzed. Many have expressed their immediate desire to embrace children and grandchildren, holding them tightly enough to both give thanks and, perhaps, take comfort in the illusion that we can protect our kids at all times if we can just hold on tight enough.

I find it interesting that there are so many expressions of grief from people, all of whom, I believe, genuinely care about what has happened. From the most fringe comments I’ve read I get no sense in which the hurt is any less real for those people just because they are pushing a previously held agenda. We all are scrambling to get a handle on our emotions and figure out how to react. Wouldn’t it be odd if there was complete and total agreement in the wake of such a situation? We are individuals and we can be united in heart without being united in opinion. We should beware of holding anyone’s opinions to the fire in such a time as this, discussions can resume tomorrow or the next day, today let us grieve together and weep together and acknowledge just how deep the wound is.

I guess that is the thing that keeps reverberating in my mind and heart. There is nothing we can say or do today that will magically make this go away or feel better. There is no policy that can be voted on that will take away the hurt. There is no law that can be instituted that will fill that hollow place. Even for Christians like myself, who believe in the resurrection and the glory of eternal life, we must be able to admit that a “well-timed” verse, even if it is true, is not going to change the facts of today. There is a grieving process that even God acknowledges in the Scriptures, and to attempt to jump from tragedy to satisfaction circumvents the natural progression that human beings must walk through to arrive at a place of acceptance and peace.

Let us be careful today, and in the near future, not to be quick to say things about “God’s plan”, or “everything happens for a reason”. While those things may indeed apply, and there is definitely truth in the Scriptures that deal with our confidence in God’s sovereignty, there is a time when they can be received and time when our job is not to come up with all the solutions and “fixes” but simply to “mourn with those that mourn”.

I am reminded profoundly today of Jesus’ response to Mary the sister of Lazarus at her brother’s grave. Jesus, who knew what was about to happen, who knew that in the next few moments He was going blow everyone’s mind with one of the most awe-inspiring and astounding displays of power the world would ever witness, despite this knowledge did not merely flaunt His power as He took Mary into His embrace. With that young woman, distraught and confused and attempting to make sense of the chaos that had assaulted everything she knew of as good and right and normal – to her Jesus did not proclaim platitudes and doctrines, to her He did not even quote Scripture, the very antidote He had used to drive away Satan himself. John says this:

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.

John 11:33-35

Even the Son of God, in the moment of His friends’ and countrymen’s deepest pain, found no better or more appropriate response than to weep with them. Granted his response didn’t end there, He offered them the hope of the Gospel through the resurrection of Lazarus, but maybe it’s enough if we start where He started and then let His Spirit open the doors for us to begin dialogue in the aftermath. I encourage you friends, for yourself and others, beware of hollow comforts in the face of tragic circumstances. I would venture a guess that those kinds of reactions are more likely an attempt to help us push away the pain instead of dealing with why it hurts. This is never a safe policy. If we never search the distress that we feel, we close off an entire side of our humanity. One dimensional people are not whole people, and we are called to be whole.

Along with so many others, my prayers are with the families directly affected, the community, our nation and our world. I join your sorrow, though obviously not as deep, nonetheless real. May the God of all comfort, comfort all of us.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4

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