As do many of you, I usually have the TV on in the background. On this day, politicians were arguing about who was going to jump off the cliff first. As a nation, we were trying to decide which one of the politicians we were going to push off the cliff first.
Then the news broke. Everything stopped. Something had happened in a school in Connecticut.
We were trying to get specifics, but it seems a shooter had invaded an elementary school and details were foggy. For the rest of the day, we chased rumors about who had been where and who had seen what; but then it all settled down, and here’s what we know.
A very troubled young man—for whatever reason—decided there was no way out for him; he was going to hurt as many people as he could on his way out. So he killed his mother and went to the elementary school where she had worked. There, he killed 20 elementary students, several more adults and then himself. At the end of the day, we were left with 27 people dead, 20 of whom were children.
We couldn’t make sense of any of it. For the rest of the day, we watched parents. Some discovered their children were alive. Some discovered their children were not. We watched press conferences; but at the end, we had only more questions.
How did this happen? Why did this happen?
Oh no, not again.
What’s wrong with us? What’s wrong with our nation? Is it gun control? Is it mental illness? Is it video games? What is wrong?
Bob Smietana, the religion editor of The Tennessean, called me and asked, “Mike, what are you going to tell your people Sunday?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know, Bob.”
The irony of my job is there are a lot of times in life when there are no words…when anything you say is stupid. Yet, more times than not, those are the times I’m called on to say something. I don’t know why this happened. My guess is, even if we did know why, it wouldn’t be reason enough for us. Even if somehow we could talk to this young man and say, “Explain it to us. What drove you to this? What motivated you to do this?”
He would tell us and we would say, “Yeah, that’s bad; but it’s no reason to kill 20 children.” It doesn’t make sense. It won’t ever make sense.
Things such as this scare us at a primordial level. They make us deeply afraid. When we watched our televisions and saw the little town in Connecticut that we thought looked a lot like our town. Newtown, Conn., is the place you move to get away from violence and senseless acts. This school resembled our schools. Those children resembled our children.
Most of the time, we can fool ourselves into thinking our world is safe. Our ancestors talked about evil spirits and dragons that haunted us in the night. We dismissed those stories as mere superstition, but maybe they understood more about life, death, darkness and evil than we give them credit for. It seems there is an enemy that stalks us to rob us of life, meaning and hope.
In times such as this, we exhale and realize our world is not safe. For all the illusions of security, it’s a very frightening place to live. We can’t control these things, we’re told. In truth, we can’t control anything. We live in a world that is increasingly driving us to solitude. Children spend hours in front of a television or computer, not talking to other people or being around them, but living their lives virtually through technology.
We don’t call friends anymore. Who uses a phone these days? We text. Even when we text, we don’t use full sentences—just symbols. Do you know what BTW means? It means “by the way.” LOL is “laughing out loud.” Seeing “LOL” on a text is not the same as hearing your friend laugh. It’s not the same as looking in his or her eyes when he or she answers you. It’s not the same as being able to measure the time it takes between you asking the question, “How are you?” and how long it takes for an answer. You can’t get that in a text, can you?
We were created for community. We were created to be with each other, to watch out after each other. Our world has made us very afraid, so we guard ourselves and say, “I’ve just got to take care of me; I’ve got to take care of mine…the rest of you are on your own.”
No, we’re not. Those children in Connecticut were our children, just as the children who are in these pews or in our preschool. Every one of them are our children, and we need to be in their lives. We need to be watching and paying attention. We need to know what it means when they stand this way, when they walk that way, when their eyebrows do this, when their words say this. We need to know them.
I’ve told you before I’m really tired of Baptists watching a young man and seeing he’s going to get in trouble. Then, when this young man crosses a line and we can’t get him back, we’ll all gather together at prayer meeting, where somebody will say, “I could have told you that boy’s going to be trouble.” What we didn’t do is get in his life. What we didn’t do is take him for a hamburger and say, “How are you? Do you know you matter to me? Here’s my cell number. If you ever need me, you call me.” That’s what we don’t do. We don’t get in each other’s lives.
You belong to me. I belong to you. We belong to each other.
One of my favorite metaphors of the church is a wagon train. I get frustrated with wagon trains because they are slow. I keep telling Jesus I could go faster if I didn’t have all these people riding along with me. I could get there faster. Then the bad guys come over the horizon, and we circle the wagons, and you sure are glad everyone is there.
Pray for those families. Honestly, I have tried to think what would happen to me if something happened to one of my sons, and my mind won’t let me go there. It won’t open that door.
Pray for those first responders—those policemen who had to go into that scene, for the firemen and paramedics who rushed in there trying to save those kids.
No. You don’t get used to it. No. You don’t get over it.
Pray for that town, those pastors and counselors who will sit with those people for years now, trying to figure out how you handle this.
Pray for our nation that seems to be losing its soul.
Pray for the churches of our nation. If there was ever a time this nation needed light—if it ever needed the good news of the gospel, if it ever needed Christmas, to know Jesus is here—it is now.
Pray we will be spared the sin of despair ,of saying to God, “Things are so messed up that not even You can work here.”
So I invite you now to a time of prayer. I know we usually begin our prayer with praise and adoration. I know we usually begin by shouting to God how great He is, but let’s be honest. We’re not there. So let our prayer begin with grief, lamentation: “Oh God, it seems You have forsaken us. Oh God, where were You? Oh God, why did this happen? Oh God, do something.”
Pray for the families of those children. Pray for the family of the shooter. They lost a son, too; and they are wondering what they could have done to prevent this.
Pray for that town, for its leaders, for its churches, for those people who will walk their friends through this.
Pray for our nation. Pray for our nation’s soul. There is something very wrong here. Pray for our churches. We come now and proclaim Jesus is the hope of the world. May we be bolder than ever now in our preaching and our living as Christ is Lord and Savior.
Jesus, remind us the world was no more messed up when You came the first time than it is now. Right in the middle of the Christmas story, we see where Herod attacked Bethlehem and killed the children. We thought Herod was dead and gone, but it seems he is alive and still after our children. We pray, Father, for hope to take on the darkness, for the weapon of light to chase back the shadows…that in this moment, when all we know is death, we will discover the life that is only in You. We pray this in Your name, Amen.
Mike Glenn’s most recent book The Gospel of Yes is published by WaterBrook Press.