Do you feel like we live in the shadow of grief? We are inundated with updates and videos of the latest heartbreak. We are exposed to tragedies and yet not directly involved in the situation. There’s this unexplainable cloud of doom that hangs over our heads. What do we do with that?
The last month has been filled with shooting accounts all over the country, but this week it hit close to home. When pastors you know and trust lead the grieving community through a prayer service, when friends and neighbors are the law enforcement officers called to the scene, when you’ve walked the church grounds and know the exact parking lot of the latest gun violence, the wind gets knocked out of you. This sobering reality is an unwelcomed combination of fear, grief, and shock all at once.
What is the world coming to? When will all this end? These questions permeate our daily conversations more and more. Whether it’s the horror stories of the war in Ukraine, the devastating shooting in Uvalde, or the heartbreak that happened in our own backyard this week, we aren’t reading chapters of tragic history- we are living in the pages of them.
As Christ-followers, how do we respond? What do we do?
There’s a temptation to run, run away from emotions we don’t want to face. Naturally, we need time to sit and be still – that’s part of the process. But if we aren’t careful, we can seek to numb or lessen the pain in unhealthy patterns.
In the last few days, I’ve moved a little slower. I haven’t had great prayer sessions with the Lord, haven’t uncovered silver linings to these headlines to assuage the questions inside my soul. I find myself sitting, zoning out at the wall in front of me, asking:
- I don’t know these victims personally, yet I am deeply sad – what does grief look like for the observer?
- How do we question what God allows and trust Him at the same time?
- What if I don’t even know what it means to grieve well?
- How do we honor those directly impacted and still go on with life? How do we know when it’s ok to laugh and smile again?
- What about the families of the shooters – how must they be feeling?
- Are we just to expect more and more stories like the ones unfolding around our country?
- How do we not forget sobering life lessons weeks and months from now?
Those are just a snapshot of what’s racing through my head. Yet we are not the first ones in history to ask these sorts of questions, nor the only ones fearful of an unknown future. In a time of peril, facing an overwhelming foe, King Jehoshaphat brought this honest plea before the Lord:
O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You. 2 Chronicles 20:12
That’s what we do, we keep our eyes on our unshakeable God. Isaiah tells us Christ bears our griefs and carries our sorrows (Isa. 53). In our affliction, He is afflicted (Isa. 63:9). He is near to those who are crushed in spirit (Ps. 34:18). He weeps at death (John 11:33). He is ever-present in times of despair. And so we press into His character. He is not surprised. He never grows weary (Isa. 40:28).
And we must carry the depths of our sorrow to His throne. In his recent message on lament and hope, Matt Chandler brings up a well-known and treasured verse: “Casting all your care on Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) Casting is an ongoing and continual action. We are called to come to Him often and leave nothing out.
But what happens if we stop bringing Him our cares? If we don’t express our anger at the injustice of innocent lives being lost, we will be consumed with hatred. If we don’t give Him our disappointment, we will turn into perpetual cynics. And if we don’t give Him our sadness, we will drown out joy and hope from our lives.
These are dismal and dark days, but God wants all of us, including our big emotions and sobering questions. Psalm 145:18 says “the Lord is near to all those who call upon Him in truth.” How can we know the nearness of God if we are not being honest about the struggles in our hearts?
As Mark Vance so beautifully stated at the prayer service for Eden Montang and Vivian Flores,
“We’re going to celebrate the resurrection with tears. We’re going to trust in the God who is bigger than our pain. We aren’t going to act like our pain isn’t real—it is. But we also aren’t going to act like God isn’t real—because He is.”
We grieve. We ask our questions. We love those around us through crying, through silence, in every layer of this emotional journey. God has called us to live in such a time as this, and yet our hope is not anchored in this life. We are anchored to the One who will finally bring us home one day.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”