This morning, we heard the tragic news that a McKinney North High School student died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the school. As a pastor in our city, I wanted to help. I drove to the neighboring high school, McKinney Boyd, where they were taking the students to reunite with their parents.
There, I had the chance to watch the response of the outstanding counselors from our school district. I asked them to help me to understand how I can help people respond to tragedy. I want to take some of what they shared and add to it some of what I have learned through the years as a camp director, church staffer and pastor.
No one knows all the answers in a tragic situation so many will not start the conversation. Don’t be afraid to start. Be direct about your intentions: “I want to help you process what happened today.” As Jay Adams points out in Competent to Counsel, If you are a Christian, you are empowered to counsel by the Holy Spirit, The Counselor.
A basic question is all it takes. Something like “Where were you when you heard the news?” Then be ready to follow the direction that they take the conversation. If they are not conversive, you don’t need to be forceful. Just be present.
If they are able to talk, continue to encourage them to process their emotions. “How did it make you feel?” “What makes you angry?” “What makes you sad?” The more they can verbalize, the more healing they will experience.
You don’t know all the answers. Your goal is not to give them all the answers. That said, if you are a believer, the Bible gives us hope in tragedy. One of my favorite passages for a tough time is Romans 8:18-39. Here, Paul talks about the brokenness of our world… and the hope we have in JESUS.
At one point, my mom was in the hospital for over a month. A man visited her room and said the words: “I can’t help you personally, but I know someone who can. Can I take you to Him in prayer?” She has never forgotten those words. Be like the four friends that took the lame man to Jesus in Luke 12. Bring the person and the names of those involved in the tragedy to Jesus.
Give it Time
We do not give space in our culture for grief. This Sunday, I will be preaching through the Beatitudes in which Jesus says the radical words: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This makes no sense in our world. It could loosely be translated as: “Happy are the unhappy.” We need to give time for grief. When Nehemiah heard the tragic news that Jerusalem had been destroyed, he wrote: “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days…” (emphasis mine).
If you are reading this article, Please stop right now and pray for the family and friends of the one who took his life today and for all those who are processing this tragedy. PRAY!