The following was originally shared on Facebook Live by Nic Allen, the Discipleship Pastor at our church.
We woke up to some devastating news this morning. I know this isn’t an American issue or problem, it’s bigger than that. It’s an every society human being problem. It seems like we’re interrupted daily with another tragic event. Whether it’s a natural disaster destroying homes or an act of evil expensing lives, we see it and experience it every day.
If you are a parent, you don’t just have the job of meeting this tragedy with a Godly perspective and Christ’s love, you also have the important task of framing this for the kids God has entrusted to you as a disciple maker. Several years ago, in response to the tragedy in Charleston, we composed a response to help moms and dads navigate. It’s different at each phase of childhood development. It’s a difficult job. As moms and dads, we were not signing up for simplicity. And here we are again with yet another senseless tragedy. Problem is, God has entrusted us with the lives of those who desperately need us to make sense out of the senseless. Here are four responses you can consider that might inform your choices as parents leading through tragedy.
- We call the first idea Radio Silence. If your children are young enough, you just might make it through this moment without any mention of Vegas. My son Simon was only two, almost three, when a gunman took the lives of a pastor and some church members in Charleston. We didn’t talk to talk to him at all about the tragedy. He didn’t yet have the framework to understand crime, death, or even mourning. Toddlers can recognize sadness and should be allowed and encouraged to express it. As parents of young preschoolers, we want to teach our kids how to respond to sadness in others with kindness and sensitivity. This tragic event in Vegas isn’t the best place to practice that. If your preschooler sees you mourning and asks why you are sad, it’s simple to say that someone in another city was hurt and it made you sad. The next step is to tell your young child that you are going to pray for their family. Know that going radio silent with young children is a proactive parental response to protect them from information that they are not prepared to process. In certain stages and seasons, that is the right thing for a parent to do.
However, assuming that you can keep this method indefinitely is naive. Begin talking with your spouse and other families about ways you intend to lead your child through tragedy. Trust me, our world is fallen. The very sad…but very true nature of the Vegas tragedy is that another one will eventually come. When it does, you might need an alternative to radio silence.
- We call the next idea Censored Sensitivity. Children are bombarded with images and ideas all day every day. As parents, one of the hats we wear is that of a filter. You set the rules in your family about film ratings. You set the pace in your home about world history and current events. Let’s take a skyrocket view. Your young elementary child may know the name, Adolf Hitler. They know he was responsible for arresting and killing Jews during WWII. What they don’t know [yet] are the gory details of life in a concentration camp. They don’t yet know about the gas chambers. Those details will come later. For older children who hear about Vegas, it’s important to know how to answer questions like, “why did he kill those people?” and “why did God let that happen?” and perhaps more importantly, “could someone come and kill people at our church or school or at a concert here in Nashville?” The answers to those questions aren’t pretty or easy. It is important to be honest and clear, but to only provide the level of detail that our children are prepared to handle. Fortunately, you know your children best and you have the power of the Holy Spirit living in you to help you discern when is the right time to divulge details about any horrific event like the Vegas tragedy this week. You can’t promise your kids that bad things won’t happen. You can help them understand that in the face of tragedy, your kids have you and other adults in your church family to help them know how to trust God when we are sad and confused.
- The third idea is Full Disclosure. Tweens and teens are ready whether we like it or not. If we don’t frame events like these, the world is all too happy to provide the framework. We must be careful to take a proactive posture in these moments so that we as moms and dads set the tone for how our growing kids process events like these. The unbelieving world will be happy to polarize and politicize this event. What we get to do is spiritualize it. Bottom line: this world is broken because of sin. While we don’t yet know [at least at the time of this recording] why this tragedy occurred, we do know why bad things happen. We live in a world full of hate and violence because ALL have fallen short of God’s glorious standard [Romans 3:23]. We also know and believe that anyone who calls on the name of Christ can be saved [Romans 10:13]. We can explain the existence of a hate crime by the presence of sin. We can also teach about forgiveness referencing what seems totally unforgivable. This option means open dialogue, hard conversations, and lots of prayer. Designating specific moments of family time to talk and pray together is an appropriate way to model for your child just what do when tragedy strikes. Remember, tragedy will strike again. How you lead your child now will be the example for how they lead themselves later.
- A final idea is a Call to Action. What if you allowed God to work this tragedy in your family to sew seeds of prayer and even evangelism? What if your teachable moment turned into a season of both prayer and fasting for healing in our country? What if you used it as an opportunity to reach out to your neighbors and support others. Not even 24 hours have passed since the Vegas shooting and I’ve already connected with several friends who have a deep connection to the city and the event. One friend who was even there at the weekend festival and, praise God, is safe. In the days ahead, we’ll all know someone who this shooting affects very personally. Can you and your family provide hope and encouragement and prayer? Is this an opportunity for you to coach your kids, especially, growing teens and emerging adults how to love and aid others caught in tragedy? Everything, even and especially horrific things like this can be incredible teaching moments. This generation of young believers we are called to raise are an active force in the world. They respond to action and need to be called to mobilize and move. Ask yourself how the tragic event can be a catalyst in your family to help everyone walk more deeply with Jesus. Then, act on it.
As always, your Rolling Hills Staff Team is here and ready to help for those of you in the Franklin area. There are moments when tragedies like these grip a child or teen and cause unbearable fear. It can create an inability to cope. In those situations, we are fortunate to have a church counseling plan of action to help. And when it comes to help, we want nothing more than come alongside you and help you raise kids who know and follow Jesus. As always, we don’t just want that through the good seasons. Especially as of late, we want to be there through the difficult, even tragic ones, too.