I was scrolling through Facebook at a gas station, on the road coming home from vacation when I first learned about the gunman who forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 20 children and 6 women, and wounded several other people. Like everyone who was posting about it on Facebook, I was horrified, shocked, and heartbroken. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and tried to look up every online article I could find about it—but the events and aftermath were still unfolding—families were still searching and hoping to find their babies, and there weren’t many details.
I’ve been checking online news sources, blogs, and Facebook frequently, in an effort to learn more, to find something to DO to help, and it’s been interesting to see how the nation and people around the world have been reacting to this tragedy.
First, I noticed people posting things about how to talk with your children about tragedies and disasters. Then things got political---posts and arguments about gun control. Then pleadings from people still shattered by the killings begging others NOT to get political, but to hug loved ones, pray, light a candle, and just put away political agendas. I have to admit, after I felt shock and sadness, my first thought was—“now everything is going to come down to gun control---but why won’t people talk about mental health care?” I was about to post something on Facebook about that, when I stumbled on a friend’s post asking people to NOT get political yet—it hadn’t even been 24 hours since the shootings, and really, shouldn’t we mourn with those who mourn?” I didn’t publish my post about mental health care reform. In fact, I deleted it.
Then I noticed some people were posting light hearted things—pictures of kittens and puppies, or of tropical beaches, or they were telling jokes, commenting that they “need a distraction from all this bad news.” This ticked me off. How could anyone laugh or make merry NOW, of all times???
Then I noticed images---not the photographs and videos from the crime scenes, but photographs and paintings of angels drooping over headstones, or candles lit, with the names of the victims, banners, pictures of children with angels wings, children holding the hand of Jesus, doves, flags, of first responders huddled together.
Then came the articles and photographs of the gunman, followed by angry posts about the media allowing the gunman to gain notoriety by showing his photo and printing or speaking his name.
Then, as the identities of the victims were released, I saw photos of smiling children, laughing adult women, and messages with their names and the word “Hero” underneath or over their heads.
Today, one of my friends posted on Facebook that she wanted to DO something—she mentioned that she was already praying, had worn green and white (Sandy Hook’s school colors), and thought she’d do 26 good deeds—one in honor of each of the victims.
This made me think…when we are hit with a tragedy—how do we cope? I think most of us go into “action mode” wanting to DO something tangible to make things better, or at least alleviate some of the pain, something to move FORWARD—so we create prayer chains, or write poems, or light candles, or close our eyes and pretend it isn’t happening. Or laugh so we don’t have to deal with the pain. But we still feel terrible and helpless and angry.
As I was thinking of this, the story of Lazarus in the Book of John in the Bible came to mind. Lazarus dies, and his sisters, Mary and Martha, are in the acute first stages of mourning. Mary runs to Jesus, falls at his feet and cries to him that if Jesus had been with them, Lazarus wouldn’t have died. Mary knows that Jesus had the power to prevent Lazarus’ death.
I don’t know if Mary had any idea that Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead, but Jesus knew he was going to do that. He could have patted Mary on the head right then and there and said, “Hey, it’s okay. I got this.” But he didn’t. He didn’t say, “Well, if Lazarus had had better health insurance…” or “we need to tighten the sword and cimeter laws.” He didn’t crack a joke, or point out the cute little lamb frolicking in the next field over in an effort to distract Mary and Martha from their grief. The Bible says “he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.” (KJV, John 11:32) He then asked where they had laid Lazarus’ body and was taken to it. Once there, the Bible says, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:33.)
I have read this story before, and heard it countless times in church, and I never understood why the Savior of the World would weep over his friend, whom he knew he could (and would) bring back to life. Jesus is the author of the great plan of happiness—the Plan of Salvation—he knows the end from the beginning—and yet, he wept for his deceased friend. It made no sense to me whatsoever, until now.
When something bad happens, we want to DO something to make it better. We want to alleviate the suffering. We want to comfort, or we want to point fingers, and blame, we want to change legislation. We want to distract ourselves, gloss over things---tell ourselves that the victims are angels now and are in a better place.
But it’s all a bunch of crap. The families of those who died at Sandy Hook are mourning. I certainly can’t speak for them, but when I imagine myself in their place—I can only think that I would rather have my precious 6 year old alive, here, with me---no matter how glorious an angel he might be now, or how he is with the Lord. I would imagine most of those families have, at this point, found little comfort—zero solace---in politics, jokes, in well intentioned comments about their angel-children and hero women.
A truly compassionate person would weep. Would mourn with those who mourn. Even Jesus did this—and he knows perfectly how much better heaven is than earth. Jesus groaned in his spirit and was troubled before he was even taken to Lazarus’ body. He wept when he saw his dead friend. The Bible said “he groaned within himself.”
It wasn’t until after he had groaned, been troubled, wept—mourned again—that he reminded Mary and everyone watching, that if they had faith, they would see the glory of God. It wasn’t until Jesus had shared in his loved ones’ grief that he raised Lazarus. He showed Mary and Martha how much he cared for them, and for their brother, by sharing in their grief—allowing them to grieve without glossing over it, or waxing poetic about Lazarus’ eternal soul. Jesus did not will Mary to feel better. He didn’t hurry her to the resolution of her sorrow. He gave her time to grieve. He grieved.
Like Jesus, we must mourn with those who mourn. The time will come for talking of hope, of changing legislation, of laughing. But we must first mourn, and allow others to do so as well—in their time and in their way. The time will come for comfort, for talk of angel children and hero women, of beauty and jokes and how to make the world a better, safer place. But we must allow for that time to come at it’s own pace.
For now, we weep.