(Image Source: Joel Auerbach/AP)
Over 15 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were shot and killed today while under the attack of a fellow student.
As I opened my Facebook feed, I was met with an article by the Huffington Post. With tears in my eyes, I stared at the picture chosen as the headline image. As you see above, it is a woman who is clearly devastated. She’s displaying the stains of this particular Ash Wednesday with the sign of the cross across her forehead.
Moments before she arrived at that high school she engaged a church where she was told she was born of dust and to dust she will return. Little did she know this reality would be her child later that same day. For her and her family, my heart aches.
Following this horrific act of hate, I feel the underlying tension of a teen who chose to express hate with violence and I can’t help but wonder. Did he have people? Did someone show him love? Is that why he did this? To be heard? And because of the ministerial position I’m in, the conversation gets real. (Let’s be clear: there is no excuse for violence.)
Do my students have people? Do people show love to them? Do they feel heard? What am I doing to facilitate an environment where students feel so incredibly surrounded by the love of God through others that they never ever want to revert to violence as a way out? Is that not our job? Is it not on us? Am I talking to any of us who call ourselves Christians?!
Should we get to sit in the judgement seat knowing that we cry out for a better world while taking a backseat to faith? I think certainly not.
I read an article recently by the Fuller Youth Institute that exclaimed the three most important words one can say to a teenager are, “tell me more.” Did someone ask him to say more as he voiced concerns? Did someone offer him an opportunity to speak at all?
Tonight thousands of students will go to sleep with school scratched off of their “safe place” list. If statistics speak, some are going to sleep wishing the shooter had caught them. Others wishing they were the shooter. So how do we respond, Christians? What shall we do?
First, we show up. And by showing up I mean me shut up. It’s not about you. Let our young people voice their fears. Ask them to tell you more. “Explain that.” “Help me understand that better.” If you are willing to listen, I promise you’ll learn something.
Then we affirm that we’ve heard them. Students are bombarded with opinions and orders all day long. Our best opportunity in creating space for real relationships is to simply affirm they’ve been heard. How good does it feel when someone says they hear you? Do you trust them more?
Finally, we pray. We pray that God gives us the opportunity and privilege to speak into that student’s life from a position of trust. We pray that in the areas our words aren’t enough, God’s love fills the gap. We pray that we don’t give up when the relationship gets hard. We pray that the time we spend has meaning. We pray for God to be ever present in our hearts and minds as we lead the next generation.
I’m convinced that this world will be changed by those who show up for others. It is no small task and it gets messy quickly, but because we have a God who came to us, we must go to others.
This week and the weeks to come I will be praying for the families whose lives are now upside down in the wake of this tragedy. I’ll be praying for the leaders – the Christians like you and me – who show up for these families. And I’ll be praying for the kind of peace that only God can give to flood the souls of each of these people.
Showing up is a game changer for our young people. I hope you feel that pressure and embrace it so hard you burst with the motivation to start a circle. I believe our world depends on it.