Tragedies as Teachable Moments

Much has been—and will continue to be—said in the wake of the December 14th shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. No matter how eloquently, passionately, or convincingly spoken, it is all powerless to restore the lives that were taken on that day or erase the pain being felt by so many.

I’m not sure that I have anything exceptionally beneficial to contribute to the discourse about the shooting; however, I will share a few thoughts on the ancillary topic of the learning opportunities that naturally develop after tragedies. As much as we hope to assure loved ones of their safety, the truth is that we cannot. Likewise, we may want to turn their focus onto something less horrifying, but this may not ultimately be in their best interests. As Christians, what may be most loving and assuring is to recount the truths we know from Scripture and allow these to guide how we process the tragedy.

What we know

Our world is tainted by sin. The creation God made, which was pronounced by Him to be good, has been contaminated by the evil of sin (see Genesis 3 and Romans 5).

God is good (see I Chronicles 16:34, Psalm 34:8, Psalm 119:68, and Nahum 1:7) and He is with us through all of life’s circumstances, even the tragedies (see Isaiah 43:1-3, Romans 8:38-39, and Hebrews 13:5-6).

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Romans 5:8, and I John 2:2 ) and those who have faith in Christ will live with him for eternity (see John 3:16, Romans 6:23, and I John 5:13-14).

Recounting these truths

Loved ones, particularly children, may exhibit a number of reactions to tragedies. Common reactions are listed below.

  • General fearfulness or fear of the event reoccurring
  • Quietness or apathy
  • Visible displays of emotion
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness or aggression
  • Returning to earlier behaviors
  • Somatic complains (e.g., headaches, stomachaches, loss of appetite)

The abovementioned scriptural truths can be worked into conversation as you do or say some of the following.

  • Give hugs
  • Listen to expressions of fear, sadness, and anger
  • Maintain comforting routines
  • Engage in recreational activities and exercise
  • Facilitate opportunities for getting rest and eating healthy foods
  • Discuss facts about the tragedy in age-appropriate language and detail
  • Participate in cultural and religious grieving rituals
  • Limit exposure to media coverage of tragic events

There is a lot to think about in the days following a tragedy. Amidst the shock and grieving, let’s fix our eyes on the truths of Scripture. Moreover, let’s seize these teachable moments to share scriptural truths with loved ones. As we’ve so painfully been reminded of in the past days, tragedy can strike anytime and anywhere. Let’s not delay, but share these truths with our loved ones today.

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