Like the rest of the country, I watched the news in shock and disbelief just days ago as unspeakable headlines scrolled along the bottom of the screen: “School shooting in Newtown, CT;” “Gunman attacks elementary school;” “More than 20 feared dead, mostly children.” I watched as the President addressed the nation – clearly moved as a father of two daughters himself – offering words of consolation to a grieving community and a grieving nation. I watched. I mourned.
“What do we do with something like that?” is a fair question to ask, and it’s one that 300 million people collectively ask together in the aftermath of such an atrocity. As pastors, my colleagues and I stand in pulpits across the country and try to grapple with this question ourselves – to try to make sense of it all and to help our congregations walk through it. What I’ve discovered in instances like this one, “grapple” is a fairly accurate word because it implies something you can’t quite pin down. Personally, I don’t know why awful things like this happen. (Other than just to say, sin – deplorable, unspeakable sin). And I don’t know that anyone else knows what to do either, thus we observe most of what has been shared on social media in the last 72 hours: opining.
Flying around in greater number than birds retreating for their winter homes, opinions saturate the media. (To be fair, I suppose I should include myself as standing among them, but I digress…). Just a perusal of my social media outlets reveals opinions about mental illness, opinions about gun control, (many opinions about gun control), opinions about prayer in schools, etc. It seems as though this tragedy and others like it in the past have given rise to the voices of everyone who stands on a particular side of a related issue. In just a few days since the attack, public demands for legislation, one way or the other, stand too numerous to count.
As a Christian and an American and a father myself, may I offer a different approach, at least for a few days? Could we just be sad? Just for a few days – a week, perhaps – could we just mourn with those who mourn? Rather than race up the steps of the Capital Building or light up the phone lines of our Congressional representatives or post fervently about what must be done, could we just be sad with those who are sad?
Quite frankly, I offer this suggestion not knowing exactly what that looks like, but I think it is needed nonetheless. People want to grieve. Our brothers and sisters in Newtown will be grieving for a long time to come, as their children and loved ones were taken far too soon. I cannot imagine their heartache, and all I know to do on their behalf is pray for them. I pray peace for them that goes far beyond our understanding.
But I also recognize the nation is hurting as well. When the president wiped tears away on national television, he did so, not just for himself, but for all of us. We all need to grieve. We all need time to grapple. Death is a community event. I witnessed this recently myself, as the day after the tragedy in Connecticut, I conducted a funeral for a dear saint who went home to be with God. In the South, it is customary to ride in a slow-moving funeral procession, and on occasion, other drivers on the opposite side of the road will stop to honor the family of the deceased. On the nine-mile drive from the funeral home to our church, every vehicle we passed pulled over to the side of the road. Every single vehicle. I was amazed at such a public out-pouring for a person the other drivers did not even know, but it only underscores an often down-played truth: we grieve collectively. Despite the obvious brokenness of the world, there is still a very palpable sense in which we are all in this together.
And so as a community of faith and as a country of fellow citizens, could we just be sad together for a little while? Let’s not jump straight to action, for that time will come soon enough. Let’s take a page from Joseph in Genesis 50 upon the death of his father Jacob: it was only after a set-aside time of grieving that Joseph worried with the logistical things that needed to be done. In fact, the typical biblical response seemed to be a seven-day grieving period (1 Chr. 10:12, Job 2:13, etc.) – why not try that at least? I realize the iron is hot when emotions help fuel decisions on critical issues, but in seven days, tragedy will still need averting. Children will still need protecting. Laws can still be passed. The time for action will come. Until then, can we just be sad together? Let’s take time to cry. Let’s take time to pray. In Jesus name, let’s take time to mourn with those who mourn.