Monday was a heavy day. That night, my family sat down for our usual routine – some quiet moments before dinner when we sit and pray together. My two younger daughters, ages 9 and 7, were in their places as their daddy began to pray, “God, we’re so grateful for all the good things you give us.” But this night, he included something else in our prayer. As he asked God to comfort the people and families affected by the students at Virginia Tech, the girls both looked up. “What happened?!?” they asked, almost in unison. My husband’s answer was short and simple: A young man was upset and confused and did something that is completely beyond our understanding. There is no way to know why he did what he did and it’s very sad that no one was able to stop him.
I guess I should mention that my children don’t watch TV news and that we often hide the front page of the paper in an effort to shield them from the shock of our daily news. We want to break things to them gently and remind them that God is alive and at work in this world despite all the hate and anger around us. I want them to know God’s touch first, so that they can manage the barrage of frightening events around them.
So, how do parents explain this kind of thing to their young children? We can’t. There are too many unanswerable questions. Who is this shooter? Why did he kill? Who could have, or should have, protected the young ones who are now lost? My daughters want to understand – and so do I. But we don’t.
The one mystery I can explain is this: God will be the comforter and the peacemaker in this kind of situation. We say it and we believe it, but this truth does not explain things and it doesn’t make events seem any more reasonable. I’m reminded of the ancient prayer: “O God, we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
Julie Clendenin works in the media department at Sojourners/Call to Renewal.