Have you ever slipped and landed flat on your back, Charlie Brown-meets-football style? There’s that fraction of a second while you’re in the air, when you search for something firm to grab.
“And now abide these three – faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13)
Faith, hope, and love. Nothing challenges these three like tragedy, and yet nothing can strengthen them like tragedy does.
As a form of ancient Greek or Shakespearean drama, all tragedies had a main character, who may or may not be likeable, and who experienced a significant downfall. As this story played out on stage, the audience is kept at arm’s length, a safe place to sympathize or judge. While we’ve traded in stages for live-streams, tragedy still intrudes fairly regularly, usually at a safe distance.
Until it’s not someone else, way over there. Until it hits close to home.
Tragedy just doesn’t fit our theory of how the world works. Tragic events are undeserved, uncontrollable, unexplainable. When we filter a tragedy through our assumptions about ourselves and the world around us, we can only think...NO.
No, it doesn’t make sense. All the clichés and well-meaning attempts to smooth over the rough edges, especially those that imply the will of God, offer more frustration than comfort.
There’s never a good explanation because the tragic moments test our faith, not our reason. We discover where our faith is placed: in a world that we thought was fair and predictable. In a God who is merciful and sovereign. In a world that can break us. In a God who heals.
With all due respect to the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, I’m not sure hope is a “thing with feathers”. I think when tragedy strikes, we need a hope with talons. An iron grip that can hold on to the smallest shred, the faintest glimmer of hope – hope that our faith in a good God is not in vain.
Our faith, and our hope, is in a God who is love itself, who is our shelter and strength. Our explanations won’t heal what’s broken; only the mystery of a loving God that permeates every living thing can sustain us when we are surrounded by death.
So where is the beauty in the ugliest, most broken parts of life? I don’t think we find it. I think we make it. Tragedy can call forth the best in us; not in a surface way, quick to gloss over and hide the pain. In these moments, the best in us comes from the deepest reserves of our soul, much like the taproot of a tree – the central, largest root. From that strongest root the others branch out and are sustained, even during times of drought.
When the temptation is to run away or watch from afar, run toward. Whether it’s a story on cable news or news from a dear friend, lean into it. Get your hands dirty. Be moved to tears. Be moved to act.
Meal and Time
Hospices, ICU waiting rooms, and hospitals are home to people walking through a personal tragedy. Pay a visit or make a call to the nurse manager or unit administrator and ask what visitors could use. Grab some friends and bring a care package.
Suggestions: Card games, small puzzles, books, current magazines, travel size toiletries, lip balm, hand lotion, hand sanitizer or wet wipes (unscented – waiting room air tends to be warm and dry); nail files and clippers, granola bars and other healthy snacks, tea, juice, water bottles, and powdered drink mixes for bottled water, cough drops, OTC pain relievers, and cortisone cream, facial tissues; pens, thank-you cards, labels, small notebooks, colored pencils and coloring books, Zip-loc® or brown paper bags, eye masks (for family members sleeping by their loved one’s side), comfy, colorful socks, and chocolate. Always chocolate.
If you want to be everyone’s hero – invest in a few cell phone chargers and leave them with the staff. And don’t forget the kids. Ask the staff member if small toys or kids games are needed, too. Arrange to bring lunch or dinner, like soup, sandwiches, a veggie tray, and fresh fruit.
If your hospitals are overrun with care packages, local crisis centers and homeless shelters could also use these things.
“Thy Will”, by Hillary Scott. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dp4WC_YZAuw
Abba, Father, Daddy…
Sometimes the hardest thing for us to admit is that we don’t know why bad things happen; the hardest thing for us to do is to approach a good and powerful God with our anger, or to draw near to those who can show us how You love. Likewise, we admit that seeing Your children in pain makes us uncomfortable – we feel helpless and brokenhearted.
Father, draw close to the brokenhearted, as You promised you do. Give your church words to comfort them, but more so, give us the strength to be silent, to be present – to be joyful in hope, patient in suffering, faithful in prayer, and rooted in Love.