I certainly didn’t think I’d be writing about this just before Christmas – the deep, deep sadness and senseless violence that is rocking our world. My husband and I went out last night, for dinner then to our daughter’s high school holiday program. The tragedy in Sandy Hook was on everyone’s heart and mind. There was heaviness – everywhere. Something that could be felt between us and seen on one another’s faces.
As parents we naturally want to shield our children from pain and suffering, yet we cannot. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “Into each life some rain must fall.” But this tragedy feels like too much rain, a torrential downpour. I think the difference with this situation is the unspoken thought that we all feel: “That could have been my child.”
As we sort through and grapple with how close to home this hits us, it is important not to miss the opportunity to talk with our children about sadness and tragedy. A friend on FB posted, “My preschooler just saw the flag at half-mast. How do I explain to him why? What can I tell him about this awful thing?”
As adults we often think full-disclosure is best – that’s honest, right? No, not necessarily. You begin by keeping the conversation age-appropriate. A preschooler needs a different answer than a teenager does. Answer the questions they’re asking and keep it simple. “The flag is at half-mast because some children were hurt at their school.” Turn off the TV and radio. Don’t overwhelm them with details they don’t need to know. Be with them if they need you and assure them they are safe. Children take their cues from the adults around them: “If Mom and Dad are ok, then I’m ok.”
Tragedies like this one are dreadful to ponder, let alone to give voice to. Yet it is through the act of talking about it that we can teach. You mustn’t be afraid to talk about sadness. Tragedy gives us the opportunity to grapple with the complexities of life and with how everything fits into the scheme of our faith, including difficult times. Take the opportunity to introduce your child to the fullness of God, His love and His compassion. And be “ok” with things you yourself don’t fully understand.
There is a great paradox that eludes us when thinking on extreme violence and senseless loss – that is, although we are made in God’s image, God is not like us, nor does He think like us.
I do not say this flippantly; I was confronted with this paradox at the young age of 9. My grandmother was violently murdered, senselessly, when she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She became an innocent victim of a drug-deal gone bad. Not the magnitude of 20 murdered kindergartners, but a tragedy that rocked my young world as sadly and as violently as this one has rocked our nation.
When my grandmother was murdered, NO ONE talked about it, ever. I had neither the tools nor the wherewithal to process this great sadness. It was hard to imagine why God allowed this violence to touch our lives. The years after were marked by fear, confusion and uncertainty. I was well into my 20’s before I ever began admitting my fears and disappointment with God.
I think back on my poor mother and the deep despair that almost overtook her. That we never talked about it is not her fault, nor my father’s. They did the best they could at the time. But certainly there must have been an adult in my life who could have bravely attempted to help me get through the confusion. A teacher? A neighbor? Someone … anyone?
We’re all holding our children a little closer today, regardless of their ages, mourning for the great loss of young life. Don’t be afraid to allow your child to mourn with you. What happened is sad. God is sad, too – He isn’t our adversary when tragedy hits, He is our ally. Help them to reconcile sadness to the best of their ability. Think of it as a small inoculation to prepare them for their own sadnesses.
Bad things happen, sadness is inevitable, but God is faithful and will give you the wisdom and insight that you need, when you ask. Remember what Jesus told His disciples: “In the world you will have trouble, but be brave: I have conquered the world.” (John 16:3b) ~ ily momma
O God, whose most dear Son did take little children into his arms and bless them; Give us grace, we beseech thee, to entrust the souls of these children to thy never-failing care and love, and bring us all to thy heavenly kingdom; through the same thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Almighty God, Father of mercies and giver of all comfort; Deal graciously, we pray thee, with all those who mourn, that, casting every care on thee, they may know the consolation of thy love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen