I arrived after a long trip in Houston, TX, together with my wife, to speak at Kingsland Baptist Church to speak at a special missions service. Upon arrival at the airport I heard the news of a mass shooting of 27 young children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut by a deranged young man. Honestly, with the non-stop media coverage you cannot help but to think about the shooting and the lives of innocent people, and precious children who were lost.
My wife and I are not new to violent tragedies. My wife’s entire family, her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews including six of her seven siblings were all were murdered or starved to death at the hands of the genocidal Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. My father was killed after 9/11 by Islamic terrorists in a despicable bomb attack on innocent people which took the lives of nearly 30 other individuals as well. Noit and I understand personally the pain and loss of these families in Newtown, Connecticut.
I will never forget the phone call from my weeping Mom telling me that my father was seriously wounded in a bomb attack and the follow-up call that my father had passed away. The sense of loss, hopelessness, confusion and pain completely enveloped me and my wife. After nearly 10 years since the killing I still have waves of grief that come over me. As my children grow up I feel a loss for them because they will never had a grandfather to spoil them or take them hunting or teach them how to drive like my grandfather did with me.
Honestly, the most comforting words that people said to me were, “I know how you feel.” That may sound odd, like an overused cliché, but it brought me comfort. Sure, our losses are all different. You probably never lost a family member to genocide, nor to a Islamic terrorists attack, but I think you can relate to my pain. We have all received calls, late at night, about the passing of a loved one. The pain is the same.
From my experience and observation, let me give some suggestions on what is not very helpful to recovering from grief.
Blame game. Everyone has an opinion: It was the gun’s fault. It was the lack of a ballistic security door. It was a lack of concealed weapons at the school. It was the medication’s fault. It was the absence of God in school. It was the fault of violent video games and movies in society.
Of course there is probably a little bit of truth in everything and everyone has an opinion, yet these opinions don’t really help anything. They won’t bring back any of the lives that were lost and will probably not prevent the loss of life in the future. Evil has always found a way to reveal itself long-before the invention of guns and will continue to do so in the future.
Bitterness. Being angry will destroy your life. Bitterness is almost like suicide. If there is anything that will destroy your life, a survivor, it is bitterness. The opposite, forgiveness, is the only way that healing can come. Bitterness is a personal choice. People make decisions in their own heart whether to be bitter or forgive. Don’t be bitter.
Fear. Obviously, some fear is healthy. A measured amount of fear allows us to live a more healthy life and to be careful. But a fear which overwhelms you is not healthy. Living in fear will cause you to lose friendships and it will prevent you from enjoying your life. The news media highlights the worst events of a nation. The USA, however, is a nation of more than 300 million people and the vast majority will never ever experience any violent event in their life. We don’t need to live a life ruled by fear.
Apathy. I think a big mistake that people make after a tragic event is apathy. Apathy is closely related to fatalism. It is the idea that you are powerless and can do nothing to change the situation. The Bible says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). I believe that apathy will not allow you to experience God’s goodness. We must work with God. Don’t be apathetic. Use the tragedy as a motivation to make change in your own life.
For me, I found relief in two simple things: forgiveness and a personal commitment.
My wife’s family were all killed by Khmer Rouge soldiers. My father was killed by Muslims. Would you be surprised to find out that some of our closest friends in Cambodia are former Khmer Rouge soldiers and I work with Muslims regularly? If we did not forgive those who killed our families we would not have friends who had committed atrocities. Additionally, we made a personal commitment to replace death, destruction and pain with love. This personal commitment is not demonstrated in opinions, but in action. We don’t want others to have to experience the pain and loss we have gone through so we work with former Khmer Rouge soldiers in Cambodia to bring them the love of Jesus. I personally go to Mindanao, Philippines every few months to continue my campaign of love against evil and violence there. It is my personal commitment to bring about change to an evil work.
I can tell you, I have never had one ounce of bitterness in my heart toward those who killed my family. I have forgiven them and I know that God is their ultimate judge. He will give justice to them according to his will and that takes the burden of revenge out of my hands. I focus on forgiveness and making the world a better place. This not only gives me peace, but allows me to enjoy the life that God has given to me!
I believe the only way for America to receive healing is through forgiveness and a personal commitment to do better as well. On the news we hear all the political opinions for “solutions”, yet I suspect that most Americans do not think that any of the recommendations will actually bring change. They are simply political soap box speeches taking advantage of the time. If change will come, there needs to be personal commitment in our lives to bring change to America.