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Another School Shooting: How Many More Tuesdays Will I Read About Senseless Killings?

Screenshot taken from The Charlotte Observer

On 30 April 2019, a gunman burst into a lecture hall on University of North Carolina Charlotte’s campus on the last day of classes for the semester. The students were giving final presentations when the gunman started shooting. Two individuals were killed as a result, and one of them died tackling the shooter in an attempt to stop him.

Though the news broke on Tuesday, it was only several days later that I finally opened an article about it. I wasn’t intentionally avoiding it—it’s just that, “Student Killed While Fighting Shooter” didn’t draw my attention like it used to. It wasn’t until I saw several articles about the same topic that I realized something had happened.

As I grappled with the news of this shooting, I found myself perplexed as to how or why I didn’t pay this story any attention until several days after it occurred. If I’m being honest, once I actually registered a headline, my first reaction was, “Really? Another one?!” After a record number of school shooting incidents in 2018 (at least 23), it seemed I was becoming numb to them in 2019.

While I was still trying to process the impact of the violence at UNC Charlotte, it happened again. On Tuesday this week, only seven days after the loss at UNC Charlotte, another shooting took place.

Another school, another shooter, another life mercilessly taken.

This time it was in Colorado, and prefaced by a dark irony that just last month, the school, along with hundreds of others, closed temporarily as the 20th anniversary of a particularly deadly school shooting known as “Columbine” approached. As of today, at least one person is confirmed dead, and several others were shot and injured.

I find myself, yet again, just reeling.

What do I do? What can I say? How can this happen? Why does this happen?

 

I can honor victims and their family in my response

I realize that I have no idea how to answer any of these questions. And that’s exactly why I feel myself becoming more numb to such news. Tragedies are horrible, and it’s easier to turn a blind eye than to engage with them. This is perpetuated by the fact that most of us feel utterly helpless when it comes to responding to tragedies.  Personally, I don’t feel like I can do anything to affect the situation positively, so I tend to give an article a casual read, then turn my mind to other things. However, something about a school shooting happening two Tuesdays in a row convinced me of one thing: I must not become numb.

The minute I stop reading the stories of parents grieving the senseless loss of their sweet child, or listening to the accounts of eyewitnesses, or hearing about how students and teachers are grieving the loss of any semblance of security in their place of study or work, is the minute I start the process of not caring. I need to listen to and read these stories, because I need to acknowledge the reality before me.

The reality is that though school should be a safe place where students can learn and feel protected, it has instead become a place where they’re practicing active shooter drills and listening for loud sounds that may indicate the worst-case scenario they have trained for. In acknowledging this, I pray that God helps me understand how I’m supposed to respond to it.

 

I can re-think how I’m praying

I think part of my response must include prayer. And that can often feel minor, empty, or like it just isn’t enough. But another thing I’ve remembered during these tragic couple weeks is that prayer is one of the most powerful things I can do. Prayer connects me to an all-powerful God who is able to provide peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7), even in desperate situations. I am comforted in knowing that the Lord listens to the cry of the righteous. He is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34: 15-18), and it’s worthwhile to spend time calling on Him. Prayer is vital, but I’ve been challenged to reconsider how I pray about something like a school shooting.

Do I simply pause to muse over it just long enough to offer up a simple prayer asking God to comfort everyone affected, and then move on to checking my email, or responding to a text message?

Or am I taking time to learn about the pain that I need to pray God heals?

Do I let the senselessness of it all inspire a desperate cry to God for restoration and peace that only He can bring?

Because I know that my God is the author of life. In fact, He sent Jesus to the cross so that us sinners could have abundant life in eternity (John 10:10). These violent school shootings are the manifestation of death and injustice in our world today. . . the stark opposite of the life that will define the restored world that God will bring (Revelation 21:1-4). They are senseless, often random, and without an identifiable motive. I have found that turning to prayer when I see death and injustice helps me to set my mind on the promised life in the new heaven and earth.

Understanding that situations like school shootings also break God’s heart and go against His ultimate plan for eternal life shifted my response to such tragedies. Instead of allowing my heart to become numb to these senseless shootings, I decided to take some time out to pray.  As I engage with the pain and grief of those affected by this tragedy, it helps me to pray more often and genuinely. As I take time to hear stories of parents who spent hours not knowing if their children were still alive, it helps me know how to pray for them. Taking time to learn about these tragedies also helps align my heart more decidedly to God’s plan for ultimate restoration and life. That alignment inspires me to pray for the pain, hurt, and violence that I see all around me on a daily basis, whether big or small.

I hope that you will join me in praying for the lives that were lost and forever changed as a result of the recent school shootings in the U.S. I also hope that you are encouraged to engage with the reality of pain and grief that I am certain surrounds you as well. Let the engagement settle your hearts on the life and restoration that God values and plans to bring to this world. And remember that when you feel helpless, prayer is powerful.

I Learned the Secret to Time Management

It was late afternoon. I was still at my computer, supposedly editing an article our website needed soon. My son was noisily racing his toy cars across the living room floor—an audible reminder that I hadn’t had time to play with him that afternoon. I also still needed to plan and cook dinner at some point before my husband and sister came home from work.

But instead of carefully weighing words and punctuation, or attending to any of the other items on my growing “to-do” list, I was checking out what my friends had recently read on a book-centered social media platform.

That’s when a notification lit up, informing me that I had read a total of 19 books in the last year.

As a self-identified major bookworm, I stared at the number in disbelief. Even during slow years, I could easily read twice that number of books. Why so few books in 2019?

For the next week or two, I turned this question over in my mind. I also started paying attention to how I was spending my time. It didn’t take long for me to realize that my work was taking far longer than it should, mostly because I was constantly taking “breaks” to scroll social media or news sites instead of focusing on the work at hand. These breaks often took much longer than planned, and tended to zap my motivation rather than build it up.

In response to this newfound realization, I decided to free up a morning, splurge on some overpriced coffee at a local shop, and brainstorm how best to salvage my time in the future. I felt pretty pleased with the actionable steps I came up with. To remind myself of these actionable steps, I summarized them onto a post-it note that I stuck on my computer.

Though it worked well for the first day, within a week I found myself battling old habits again. I would forget to set timers for myself or spend my breaks away from the computer. I got distracted and followed Internet rabbit trails when I was supposed to be doing research for work. A few days went better than the rest, but even on the better days, I could not say that my time had been well accounted for.

No matter how hard I tried, it seemed like I was still a slave to distractions. And all my reflection and practical steps made only the slightest difference.

This continued until I came across Psalm 51 one day while reading the Bible. This was David’s psalm of repentance after committing adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11-12). One line particularly stood out to me:

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

What struck me was that David didn’t focus on fixing the problem of his sin himself. He didn’t make promises to do better in the future. He turned to God and God’s mercy, and asked God to change his heart.

In battling my lack of time management, I had written out realistic goals and actions—trusting my own willpower to make the change and get things done. But none of it worked! I had forgotten what David knew so well—not only is God able to forgive, but He is able to create in us a pure heart and renew a steadfast spirit within us.

That afternoon, I placed a new post-it on my computer. Instead of practical steps I thought up myself, I simply copied out Psalm 51:10, and made it my own personal prayer. When I sat down to work, when I took breaks, and even when I caught myself following rabbit trails on the Internet, I found myself looking down at the post-it and praying, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

You know what? That afternoon of work was phenomenal. I was able to focus like I had rarely done in the past year. And not only did I do my work quickly, but I did it well. I even had time to do an extra load of laundry, tidy-up better than usual, and bring my son to the playground downstairs—all before cooking a lovely dinner for my family.

It has been two weeks since then. There are occasional days where I focus less than I should, and work takes longer than ideal. Sometimes dinner is a little later than planned. But overall, I have more time and the work that I do is of better quality.

The thing is, I had tried to manage my time better by my own strength, and I failed. When I realized I could not do this on my own, I asked God to intervene. I prayed that He would change my heart so that I would not be so easily distracted, and could focus well on my work. I asked God to enable me to do what had been impossible for me to achieve by myself.

And God graciously answered my prayer. By His grace alone, I have been enabled to work well and give a good account for my time.

This experience was a fresh reminder that God is able to change hearts. He created a pure heart for David. He has renewed my heart in the past, and did so again in a miraculous way these past two weeks. And I know God will continuing renewing my heart in the future, helping me overcome my sins and my faults when I cannot, so that one day, I will be presented before Him without fault and with great joy (Jude 24).

Is there anything you struggle with in your life? Anything that even the best intentions have not been able to overcome? Ask God to give you a new heart.

Change might not come overnight. Some of my own prayers have taken years for God to begin answering. But even in the waiting, we can ask God to help us trust Him and lean on His strength. Even when we stumble and fall again, we know that God is continually molding and sanctifying us. And we continue praying, continue trusting that He will renew us day by day. God is in the business of changing hearts. He desires to give us a new heart and renew our spirit; all we have to do is ask.

Give Yourself Permission to Grieve

Written By Janel Breitenstein, USA

That night a couple of good friends were helping me sort action figures, Legos, and other kid-detritus into bins in my boys’ room. They had come over for dinner together while our husbands were out of town. During the meal, they had asked candidly about how I was doing with our adoption—which is to say, the adoption we painfully decided not to complete.

Truthfully, my heart felt raw, as if it were beating outside of my body. My grief felt so vulnerable, so scraped and skinned and gaping, that privacy was all I could fathom to deal with it. I felt oddly embarrassed that we’d taken steps out of obedience to pursue this, and told people about it—and then, also out of obedience, backed out.

But after my honest admission to my friends, I shrugged, part of my consistent discipline to trust God and choose to be joyful. It was going to be okay, I asserted.

My friend paused, a toy in her hand, and looked me in the eyes. She said something like, “Janel, you need to take the time to mourn this. It’s a little like a miscarriage. You were expecting to have a child and now you’re not.” This was true. I had bought her clothes; we’d visited orphanages. “You need to grieve this, rather than stuffing it somewhere.”

To this day, I am thankful for what she gave me that evening: permission to grieve. It was permission for grieving and hope to not be mutually exclusive—to weep. To allow myself a few moments when I consigned the baby clothes I’d purchased. To be angry and bring my deepest questions to God as David did in his psalms, rather than hiding them behind my back.

 

Have we become plastic Christians?

Sometimes I wonder if, in the good and righteous and just plain hard choice that is joy, we miss some of the good that comes from grieving. Because grief and joy can be simultaneous. Joy is an unchanging happiness in God; an anchor for the soul in the midst of grief—not instead of it.

At times, I confess I have not fully grieved what is wrong about this world—not mourned with God—because somehow I’ve become convinced that a joyful Christian is not sad, or discouraged, or angry. In all honesty, I think this has stilted my worship. I have been a plasticky sort of Christian. In my haste to not complain or sin out of unbelief, I pretend that hurt or grief or disappointment or anger aren’t even there.

Instead of making a choice to believe God’s goodness in the midst of those—I pretend those aren’t there at all. I jump right to “It’ll be okay” and ignore anything I feel. It is as if I deny God access to all of me.

But the fact is, our emotions are part of the image of God in us. God, too, grieves! When we grieve the brokenness in the world around us, that is God allowing us to glimpse a sliver of what He grieves every day. Blessed are those who mourn.

I once attended the funeral of a young man who had passed away in a freak accident. Now, as Christians, we definitely “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)—and funerals are beautiful testimonies of how Christians die differently; they are incredible demonstrations and opportunities for the Gospel.

But this one, in all honesty, felt hijacked a bit by evangelism; by an agenda. If you came wrestling with the tragic loss of a young man’s life, you might have come away feeling. . . angry.

Compare this with Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus. Even though Jesus knows the outcome, the triumph—He did not call bad good, did not seize the opening for a sermonette on hope. He took the time to mourn the travesty that has happened, then illuminated what resurrection is all about.

The writers of the Psalms worshipped God with all they had, including their grief. Scholars note that all psalms of lament have similar components. Often the psalmist begins by calling on God, acknowledging this as a prayer, and not simply an internal struggle.

They then lay their complaints before God, honestly bringing to Him the painful circumstances of a fallen world.

After asking God to intervene and right the wrongs, the psalmist typically ends by reaffirming his trust in God’s character and trustworthiness. It is critical for our grief to restate our hope. In remembering God’s goodness despite our grief, we walk by faith, not by sight.

 

Mourning with joy and gratitude

In your time with God—and even with a close friend—it’s okay to acknowledge what you’ve lost because of your daughter’s learning disorder, or that you were hurt by someone in the Church, or that yes, you wanted that job.

I think of 1 Peter 1:6: “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now. . . you may have had to suffer grief”. What does it look like to mourn. . . with joy and gratitude?

I have a friend who eventually lost his wife, the mother of his four children, to Lou Gehrig’s disease. He once recalled to me a profound moment with God. While he was still caring for his wife as her body spiraled downward, he had lain on his bed, overcome by loss.

But God seemed to be pointing him toward thanks. Not able to immediately turn to full-on gratitude, my friend simply started small. He thanked God for the ability to breathe; for the bed he wept on; for the air conditioning. From there, his gratitude snowballed, steering him into praise, and a reminder of God as anchor of the soul: “so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13, emphasis added).

My friend’s attitude has revolutionized my approach to my bad days; to my pain.

And there, when I step out of my own counsel and check out the divine gifts piling up right and left—suddenly, all these other fruits of the Spirit seem to collide at once in my soul: The unflagging, perpetual, bubbling (and occasional geyser) of joy. A peace I couldn’t articulate if I tried. A faith that sustains and nourishes and bandages as I walk through my most profound valleys. And the gifts keep on coming—when they’re based on something other than my own near-sighted ideas of justice, good, and peace.

 

Christian joy isn’t some version of Barbie, with the eternal smile that can’t be wiped off: Well, God said to rejoice! Have a cookie. Instead, our joy acknowledges, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). It says, I have deep, abiding happiness in God that surrounds me in hope and peace and belief, even when I can’t see through my own tears.

Here’s to a less plastic Christianity.

 

This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.

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