We have witnessed a tragedy
When tragedy strikes our lives, what do we do? How do we respond to the weight of personal grief, or the senseless death of school children in Connecticut? Sometimes it is helpful to pause, reflect on what is happening to us, and consider ways to receive and provide care. Here are words of healing and hope.
The following highlights are from a message to the Nurses Christian Fellowship group by then-NCF Director Mary Thompson after a shooting on campus. On October 28, 2002, a male student shot and killed three professors in the College of Nursing at the University of Arizona. Two of the professors were shot in front of students taking a midterm exam. The killer then asked the students to leave the room before he killed himself. Shock and horror made its way through campus like a tsunami. As students and faculty began the healing process, the Nurses Christian Fellowship group met to pray and grieve.
Thompson said, “A tragic event affects us physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Sometimes it is helpful to pause, reflect on what is happening to us, and consider ways to receive and provide care. Jesus is present to care for us in whatever we are facing.”
Symptoms we may experience
Though we may not have experienced physical trauma, seeing the tragedy of others affects us deeply. There are many normal responses to crisis and grief. These can include numbness, shock, inability to concentrate or solve problems, bad dreams and having trouble sleeping, lack of appetite or over-eating, feeling overwhelmed and helpless, depression, fear, anger, wanting to fight, emotional withdrawal and wanting to escape, and denying that we’re affected by what has happened. Responses to crises vary with each person.
The anger response to crisis can take many forms — irritability, being upset with ourselves, lashing out at others, and wanting revenge. Anger may be ignited by past experiences of injustice and abuse. Anger can be directed at other people, such as what happened after 9/11 when many lashed out at those who looked like the terrorists.
Fear and feelings of anxiety are also strong emotions in crisis. Violence makes people feel vulnerable, unsafe and uncertain about what will happen next. Past experiences of trauma may heighten feelings of insecurity. Some people may feel like they are becoming unglued. Others live with low-grade anxiety, heightened by situations making them feel isolated, insecure, and helpless.
God’s care in crisis
God has been caring for people throughout history. The Bible gives vivid examples, such as ministry to Elijah in 1 Kings 19 following his encounter with evil. God sent an angel to remind Elijah to eat, rest, find safety, listen to God speak, and know that he was not alone. God will also care for us as whole persons, and empower us to demonstrate the Good News of God’s presence to others on campus.
Some practical ways to receive and share God’s care
Physically: Remember to eat healthy foods and try to get adequate rest. Take a break from the news on TV or other difficult things in your life, and find some times of quiet refreshment. Exercise and work off some of the effects of stress. It can be helpful to do something for others, including acts of kindness toward those affected by suffering in our world.
- Take an inventory of what you are feeling, realizing that there may be a roller coaster of emotions during the coming days. Give yourself, and others, permission to be honest.
- Talk about your responses with a friend, or facilitate discussions with people you know. Jesus accepts emotions of people in crisis situations (see John 11 where Jesus cared for Mary and Martha in their anger and depression following the death of their brother).
- Seek environments of peace and safety. Gatherings of your Christian group on campus and local church can be places to feel secure. Spend time with older Christians who have a wealth of stories about God’s faithfulness during times of crisis and suffering. Their faith plants seeds of hope. This reminds us that God is still in control.
- If your response to crisis is making it difficult to function, and anxiety and depression are dominating your emotions, seek additional help to deal with what is happening to you. There are Christian counselors in your area, and the health service at your school has resources.
- Preparing for the end of the school year is overwhelming enough without also coping with other difficult events. It can be hard to concentrate. Try to break down major tasks into small pieces, and focus on one thing at a time.
- Try to prioritize all the things you need to do. Start with noting what you cannot do, and eliminate many things as unrealistic for the present time. Then list the most important things to finish today, and then the most important things for this week. Start on these tasks first. Extend grace to yourself and others. Crisis times do not usually include high productivity.
- Crisis may be a time of discovering what you value in life. You may want to think about priorities for the future in light of what is really important.
- Worship Almighty God and focus on his love for everyone in this tragedy. God’s love touches our fear, and our anger. Remember that nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:35-39). Worship and intercessory prayer with other believers reminds us of God’s strength, even when we are powerless.
- Review Gospel accounts of Jesus’ power over evil, and remember that His death has broken the power of the enemy. Remember the hope Christ has given to people throughout history. We are surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses,” so we can fix our eyes on Jesus, and not grow weary and lost heart (Hebrews 12:1-3). The Holy Spirit will counsel us as we deal with the issues of good and evil in our world and try to find meaning in all this suffering.
- Anticipate ways Jesus will open paths of ministry for you, including caring for others physically, emotionally and spiritually. You can help others who are grieving, like Jesus did with Mary and Martha in John 11 (see the Bible study, Jesus meets those who are grieving). He came to where they were, listened, cried, interacted, and brought life to them. Your InterVarsity group can help to bring the presence of Jesus to your campus during difficult times. Keep a journal of ways you see God working in the midst of what is happening, and talk about this with others. God is preparing people who are searching for hope, and we have the opportunity to bring Good News to them. Your group can be a witnessing community in crisis
See the companion Bible study to this article, Jesus meets those who are grieving.
— Mary Thompson, RN, MSN, former director of Nurses Christian Fellowship, a ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.