On Sunday, I pulled all the youth together to talk about the shooting at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last week. They pulled up chairs and gathered around the Justin stage. There’s a weird thing about that particular platform — it’s about 6 inches off the ground, which is just high enough that you get the impression that people are physically looking up at you when they’re up close, but low enough that the adults standing in the back are basically eye-level.
I held a bible and a half-page of handwritten notes and felt very eye-level to those adults. Parents, most of them 20 years older than me, knowing things I never could about their children, having held these teenagers as babies, and watched them grow. They stood and watched as those teenagers, their teenagers, watched me. As though I had something to say. As though there was anything I knew that would ease their anger, quell their fears, break through their disengagement.
Sometimes this job makes me feel so small.
I talked about grief, shock, anger, and apathy. That no matter how we emotionally respond is fine, but we can’t stay there. I told them the only thing I really knew to say. The only thing they could be sure of. The only thing I could be sure of:
This is not what God wants.
This is not what God wanted for those teenagers. This is not what God wanted for their families, their friends, their community. And when we can’t even muster up the energy to care about these horrifying acts of violence because they have become normal to us, that is not what God wants for us.
I talked to them about laments, about chapters in Psalms and Lamentations and Isaiah where prophets and poets cry out to God in anger and sadness because God promised them a land of milk and honey and they faced strife and cruelty, because God promised to never abandon them and then their home was destroyed, because God promised to be faithful to them, and then when they most needed a miracle, didn’t show.
I told them the Israelites cried things out to God like “How long” and “Where are you” not because they didn’t believe in God, but because they did. Because they believed in the promises of God so fully that they were unwilling to accept the brokenness and strife of their world as just the way it is. Because they heard the promises to their forefathers — that with God’s kingdom would come peace, and justice, and equality, and demanded that God’s Kingdom actually come.
I asked them to place a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them while we prayed a Psalm of lament together.
How long will you forget me, Lord? Forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long will I be left to my own wits, agony filling my heart? Daily?
How long will my enemy keep defeating me?
Look at me!
Answer me, Lord my God!
Restore sight to my eyes!
Otherwise I’ll sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I won!”
My foes will rejoice over my downfall.
But I have trusted in your faithful love.
My heart will rejoice in your salvation.
Yes, I will sing to the Lord because he has been good to me. (Psalm 13)
This is not what God wants. But we will try to model after those whose prayers we pray, and trust in the faithful love of God who has promised good to us.