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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.
‘Truth is, even if I tried to explain it all, I’m not sure I could. There are some things that just don’t make sense. 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 some diseases couldn’t be cured. I remember first pictures of beautiful, black-eyed children who were starving, and descriptions of genocide and sexual abuse. I remember the way my stomach dropped, how my knees grew weak, and that deep, sick feeling of knowing that knowing certain things would change me forever.
I ran to my dad with every new horror. (There is no comfort like a father when the world is scary.) I poured out my heart to him, wanting him to tell me that such things were phantoms and smoke like monsters under the bed. 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 weren’t made for such things because you weren’t. Don’t believe that there is something weak or wrong with you when you run into some new unthinkable deed and need time to hurt over it. It is beautiful that you have not been so hardened by the world that you have lost all your tenderness.
Secondly, it’s OK to look away. You aren’t obligated to explore every single nuance of every single disaster. The media uses tragedy for its own purposes. It milks each last ounce out of horror. It will make you feel like you need to know every detail, but every detail is rarely helpful. Therefore, think about what sort of limits are best. Be informed, but be wise. Guard your hearts.
Thirdly, remember gratitude. This may sound like some trite optimistic 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 give instead of running away in despair. So when tragedy strikes, look around the world and see what there is that is good left. 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? 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 live it until it has become my default. 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 an oasis where your broken soul can begin to catch its breath. Use art to make the little world around you beautiful; even if the night grows dark and cold. Remember to 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. Remain in those sweet human rhythms. 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. Remember His constant love. Remember that He is all powerful. Remember that He sees every nuance of every pain, and that He grieves with us. Delight that this present sadness reveals our deepest longings: love, safety, abundance, fellowship. Rejoice that earth days are short, but the land of light will never end. Burrow down into the infinite warmth of His 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.