Talking about Tragedy

Last night I had a hard discussion with my 11 yo. I knew she would hear about what happened in Paris from her peers, and I didn’t want her to come across such senseless tragedy without having a framework to process through it.

Because if you let the world tell you how to handle tragedy you miss out on hope.

I gave her the basics. There were attacks on people. A lot of people died.

Her first response was: “I wish I could talk to God.”

And before I could answer she described what she meant by that statement. What she wants isn’t to offer up a prayer, but to have a Job-like discourse with God. Not that she brought Job into it, but that’s what she described.

“I want to understand where He is and what he wants us to do.”

Oh, how my heart aches. She gets it. The hope is there. She understands there is a force out there who hears and listens to us. When we fear, when we grieve, when we get angry it doesn’t go into a void. Our yells are heard.

The problem when tragedy strikes is fear invades. It is often the first responder when we hear news we don’t know how to process. Fear invites sadness and when sadness can’t support fear anymore it then turns to anger. All these responses are normal. The problem becomes when fear, sadness and anger sit in our hearts without hope. When they sit in our minds and we believe we are alone.

Without hope they turn to vengeance. And once vengeance swoops in hope can be smothered, forgotten, or ignored.

I don’t want my daughter to be without hope. So when she said, “I wish I could talk to God,” I told her to do just that. Talk to him. That’s what the prophets of the Old Testament did when they didn’t understand the world. That’s what the Psalmists do when the world made them weary. Our hope struggles with the reality of the world.

But . . .

We are not alone.

We are never alone.

God sits with us in tragedy. He hears us. He weeps with us. His cries for justice give our own wings. He hears our fear, our anger, and our sadness. He comforts us in our confusion and dismay.

God wants the cycle of violence to stop as much as we do.

I encouraged my daughter to talk to God and not hold back. We don’t have to shield him from our emotions because he’s heard it all. Did you ever hear how Jonah talked to Him? He can take it is all I’m saying.

Her response then was what can I do? How can I help? Don’t we all wish we could fix this problem? We talked about how answering violence with violence perpetrates more violence. We aren’t doormats however and only love in action can combat all the ill human will in this world.

We love.

We help.

We change our world.

Rob Bell describes the good news of Christianity as the end of the cycle of violence. No more will hurt have to be answered with more hurt. Or a life take with the life of another. We can end it. It starts with not acting out in vengeance in our daily lives. It starts with loving people in a way that doesn’t make sense. It starts with believing there is pure good in this world that we all tap into. We are all a part of it. It resides in each one of us.

And that pure good we are a part of, it overcomes the night.

We don’t answer tragedy with vengeance. We answer it with reconciliation.

Yes there are consequences for actions. But we don’t choose the consequences. We need to accept fear, sadness and anger without inviting vengeance to the table.

I ended the discussion with a quote by Buechner.




Above all I want my daughter to know how beautiful this world is. Even when the terrible happens. It is so beautiful. I don’t want to stay in fear because I will miss out on the hope that this big beautiful world is a part of.

We have that hope even in the pit of tragedy.

How do you handle hard truths with your kids?

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