A Letter to my Children in the Wake of Tragedy
In light of recent violence in our world, I thought it might be a good idea to dust off and revise this old post, written after the Connecticut shootings in 2012. Published originally at www.storywarren.com.
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It’s been five days since that terrible thing happened in America.
You and I have talked about it some, though I never know how thoroughly to explain a tragedy. As a parent, it is difficult to know when to act as your shield and when to give you glimpses into the world you must one day face full force.
The truth is, even if I tried to explain everything that happened, I’m not sure I could. There are some things that just don’t make sense, and this is one of them.
I remember being a little girl and learning about evil for the first time. I remember the cold, creeping fear that washed through me when I realized that there were bombs big enough to destroy whole cities. I remember the shock of hearing that certain diseases couldn’t be cured. I remember seeing pictures of beautiful, black-eyed children who were starving in Africa, and hearing descriptions of cruelty so terrible that I could barely get my mind around it. I got a deep, sick feeling in my stomach, and even though I was young like you, I knew that just knowing about those thing would change me forever.
I ran to my dad with every new horror, because there is no comfort like a father when the world is scary. I poured out my heart to him, expecting him .... wanting him to tell me that they weren't true. Monsters under the bed, that's all, just pretend. But he didn't say that. Instead, he nodded and said, “Yes, Becca. They are true.”
He told me what was true, and we took a minute to be sad together. Then he got back to work.
That he got back to work was astonishing to me. If such terrible things happened in the world, it seemed that everything should stop altogether. It seemed that humanity should fall on its face, and cry, and be done with regular living. Instead, I watched my father grieve, then I watched him finish cleaning the garage.
As I have grown older, I have encountered more terrible things in this world than I hope you will ever see. However, when I survey our surroundings honestly, I think it’s far more likely that you will face worse things yet. This place will probably break your heart as it has broken mine. Because of this, I want to leave you with some thoughts:
First, it’s OK to cry. It’s OK to grieve. It’s OK to hate living in a world with disease, and murder, and abuse. You feel like you don't fit in a world where such things happen because you don’t. There's not something weak or wrong with you that these things break your heart. They should break your heart, and you need time to hurt over them. I hope you will never be so hardened by the world that you lose your ability to feel sad over what is sad. Jesus wept with the hurting, and that is what we all should do.
Secondly, it’s OK to look away. You aren’t required to explore every single detail of every single disaster. The media uses tragedy for its own purposes. It milks each last ounce out of horror. News stations hungry for ratings will tease you, play with your emotions, make you feel like you need to know every nuance of every wicked thing, but rehashing evil is rarely helpful. Therefore, think about what sort of limits are best. That's not easy. But there is a way to be informed, while being wise. Guard your hearts.
Thirdly, remember gratitude. This may sound like some trite platitude, but it is not. Gratitude is a powerful force that can put strength back in your arms and fire back in your heart. It can help you continue to be a giver when hard times come instead of just quitting and running away in despair.
So when tragedy strikes, look around the world and find a single gift, then give thanks for it. Are there responders jumping in to serve? Thank God for them. Are there principles to be learned? Thank God for that wisdom. Do you have a bed? Do you have someone in the world who loves you? Do you have food in your stomach? Do you have good books that you have read? If you have none of these things, do you have memories of better times? Is there a living God who brings beauty from ashes? I have seen my mother (your grandmother) do this over and over again in difficulty. I have watched her fight for some tiny nugget to be thankful for until it has become my default, too. So be thankful, be thankful, be thankful, even in this.
Fourthly, remember art. Music. Paint. Story. Gardening. These are mighty weapons, and there are many different ways they can be of use to you. Use them to express your grief. Use them to heal others. Use them to escape into a Sabbath where your broken soul can begin to catch its breath in God's company. Use art to make the little world around you beautiful; even if the night grows dark and cold. Pick three violets from among the rubble. Study how precisely they are painted. Hum over the words of a song. Make up a grand tale. Construct within the deconstruction around you.
Fifthly, do keep working. Finish cleaning the garage. Make the dinner. Fold the clothes. Wash the baby. Change the sheets on the bed. Stay in those sweet human rhythms, because these are liturgies of a sort. They express faith that God has chosen you to live in this particular time, with the particular people surrounding you, with particular tasks before you. Often you will find that as you step back into your daily doing, your mind will start to clear, and the whirl of black thoughts so congested within you will begin to align. There is unspeakable healing in a homemade dinner around the table with people you love. Sometimes I wonder how often the enemy (whose attacks are meant to suck the hope from your hearts) has been defeated by a loaf of warm bread and a hearty stew.
Finally, worship. Sink your sore need into the One who will make all things new. Delight in what is true of His character. Revel in His constant love. Lean back on the arms of His power. Remember that He sees every nuance of every pain, and that He grieves with us. Even your present sadness reveals longings that will soon be met forever and ever: love, safety, abundance, fellowship. Rejoice that earth days are short, and that land of light will never end. Burrow down into Aslan's mane.
How I love you. How I wish that I could make your lives turn like a story with only slight adventures and silly, blubbering villains.
Since I cannot, I will walk into this sadness with you. We will feel the sorrow together. Then, we will set the plates, and light the candles, and hold hands, and tell stories that are funny or sad. We will thank God around our little table, and we will love Him and one another. In that sweet, safe company of the close of us, we will do our work, we will worship our Lord, and we will eat our soup.