Teaching Hope Amongst Tragedy
Global tragedies continue to be reported every night. Natural disasters, war and people's inhumanity get the front page, the first tv news story and the headline in social media. Our children see these event take place in real time. Here's an article written after September 11, 2001 that reflects on some ways that families can think about tragedy.
Eight messages in response to Sept. 11, 2001.
by Claudia DeVries Beversluis
(Originally published in The Banner, October 8, 2001.)
As I write this I am thinking about what I am going to tell my children when they get home from school. The unspeakable tragedies in New York and Washington, D.C., are playing over and over again on the TV screens in the hallways at my workplace. As you read this, it may have been several weeks since that bloody Tuesday. What did you say to your children?
This is one of those moments in history that not only define who we are as a country but also who we are as Christians. Our responses in these times–what we say to our kids, what we don’t say, what they hear us saying to others--teach our children deep messages about our place in the world, the overwhelming sin and sadness on this earth, and our only comfort in life and in death. Here are some of the messages that I hope my children will hear from me, both in what I say and in how I act, over the next days and weeks:
1. We should pray together.
Our first response and our continuing response should be prayer. Join with your children--in family prayer, individual prayer, congregational prayer. Many of the messages that are described below are messages to ourselves as well as to our children, and they are messages that we come to through prayer.
2. We should be angry and we should be sad.
Let children see the genuine emotion that you have about what happened. Direct your anger at our broken world, our mixed-up, sad situation in which people kill in the name of God. Wonder aloud with your children about how people could feel such hate, such disregard for human life. Wonder aloud about God’s sadness--over the lives and families lost as well as over the evil in the lives and hearts of God’s children.
What happened was evil, and we can let our own hearts be moved by the things that break the heart of God. Even when you don’t like what you feel, you can tell your children that you are struggling with emotions that you are hoping to change. Parents who let their children see their own genuine emotions are helping those children learn to be honest with emotions and struggles as well. Parents who show their children that the evil in this world makes them upset are showing children a glimpse into the heart of God.
3. The world has changed, but not really.
We usually act like the world is a safe place for us, but we know it really isn’t. For many children in the world, life is never safe. Following the Sept. 11 attacks, many experts quickly advised telling children that they were safe, but children know better. By now they will have heard the stories of families who will never be the same. They know that sometimes even Mom and Dad are afraid. Children need both an honest statement of the unpredictability of our lives and constant statements of reassurance based on our faith. It is only our faith that permits us both honesty and assurance.
4. Yes, it is possible that someday, somewhere, something bad will happen to us.
But we want our children to know this: Jesus will be with us even then. When bad things happen, we will think of Jesus, about how much he loves us. Even in the scariest times, Jesus will be with us because he loves us. Jesus will hold our hand, and if we die, Jesus will take us home. And if someone we love dies, Jesus will be with the people who are left. So even though we feel scared, deep, deep down, we are not scared. God is still God. God still loves us very much and is holding the whole world in his hand.
The video images were searing ones, and you may want to give your children a way to handle the images by picturing a grieving God holding a suffering world--with diving planes, fireballs, and collapsing buildings included.
5. Hate is evil and never solves any problems.
One of the truly sad things about evil is that it snowballs as groups and people keep getting back at each other. So one horrible act can unloose many other acts of evil. If we respond to evil with our own acts of hatred, we are letting evil win. God has already won the ultimate war against evil, and we are to be living symbols of that victory.
6. Some people are very happy when the United States suffers.
Why do some people hate the United States so much? How did so much hate fill the lives of the terrorists? One reason is because the United States is the world’s most powerful country, and we don’t always use our power in the right way. Sometimes our power can hurt other people and other countries. Nothing makes what was done right. But our country must ask why people in other countries hate us, and we must listen when people tell us how our power has hurt them.
7. The world needs God’s people more than ever.
The world needs us to pray, just like we have been praying. But the world also needs us to work for love and justice. The evil in the world is complicated and messy. We don’t always know how to do the right thing. But because we are God’s children and because we want to be living signs of God’s love for the world, we must join together to work against evil and for good. Find a way to turn grief into a concrete act of service--perhaps something that your whole family can do together.
8. Violence is not entertaining.
What is it that draws people to movies and stories filled with violent images of exploding buildings and dying men, women, and children? Why did the early pictures of the World Trade Center collapsing seem like just another video production? Why did we have to keep reminding ourselves that it was real? Most people who have experienced the real horror of war do not delight in war movies; those who know the terror of real trauma are not drawn to recreating the experience on film. We can use the horror of what happened to understand why it is that the Christian community speaks out against violence in all of its forms.
Dr. Claudia De Vries Beversluis is dean for instruction and a professor of psychology at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich. She is a member of Church of the Servant, Grand Rapids.