“Kat, I don’t know why, but I think shooting up a place of worship is worse than shooting up a high school.”
Scary words from the mouth of a high school student. I watched her weigh the horrors in her head without being sure what was tipping the scales. She evaluated the newsreels playing in her mind with anger, and a cold distance.
There’s nothing you can say there. There is no proper balm for a 15-year-old’s righteous anger. She should be angry. I sat as she spoke and listened to her. She told me that she kept having nightmares about someone coming in and shooting up her school, but that she thought that was probably less bad than having someone come shoot up your synagogue.
“I don’t know why I think it’s worse — sorry I know it’s a weird thing to say, but I really think that’s worse.”
Unable to answer the theological question, I took a pass at the psychological one.
“Maybe you think its worse because people who shoot up schools are usually people who went to that school. People who shoot up synagogues, or that church in Charleston, aren’t people who went there. They are just people who hated those people, Jewish people, or black people, because of who they were.”
The cool evaluation bubbled over into hot anger, blue eyes locked on mine, “But why? Why would someone do that? How could someone hate people like that?”
I told her the truth: I don’t know.
I don’t know, sweet girl. I don’t know, and I’m sorry.
For all of you who are parents, I assume you experienced a phase of your child’s life where your child asked hundreds of questions — Why is this like this? How did it get to be this way? Why is this one way and that another? According to research on 1,000 mothers in the UK, mothers get asked, on average, 105,120 questions a year by their children. Children look to the adults around them and ask for keys and cues to decode their massive, mysterious world. As they figure more and more of it out, their questions become less frequent. They begin to feel they understand enough of the world that they can function without asking for as much help.
So, when they do ask, the questions are much harder. But the hope is the same. The 15-year-old who asks how people would be cruel enough to murder strangers holds on to some shred of hope that you’ll be able to give them an answer just like adults used to have for when they asked why the sky was blue or how fished breathed underwater.
So sorry, girl, I can’t help you with this one. I can try to give you something, but there is no answer out there that will heal that ache, that will rectify your anger. There is no missing piece of this puzzle, the puzzle just doesn’t fit.
Teenagers are absorbing what’s happening in the world around them. If they aren’t watching the news with you, they’re reading it on Snapchat (yes, Snapchat has news) or Twitter, and if they aren’t asking their questions to you, they’re asking them to google, or to their friends, or to other adults they trust. But they are asking and learning regardless. Teenagers are still going through that same process of childhood — trying to decode their world, trying to make sense of everything that surrounds them. But only the really tricky questions remain unanswered. “Why is the sky blue” is tough, but it has nothing on “why do bad things happen to good people” or “how could someone hate people enough to kill them?”
I wish I could give you a cue sheet of good answers for all of your teenagers’ toughest questions, but I can’t. Unfortunately for these 12 – 18-year-olds, and for you parents, there is still much of the world that I still need to make sense of myself.
If this feels like a strange follow-up to our blog last week on the importance of seeking delight in our lives, know that we spent all evening in Halloween costumes, playing ridiculous games, that 15-year-old included. I will still seek delight in my work and help my teenagers name heaven’s pockets on earth, but I am not naïve enough to think that it is a simple search.
The fact is, we don’t have answers, but we can live a life reflective of the God we serve who is a better answer. Sweet girl, I don’t know why there is hate and brokenness in this world, but I know there is joy and community and wholeness in this church. Sweet girl, I don’t know how someone could be so full of hate, but I know that Jesus is full of love for you. The delight, the pointing out of pockets of light, maybe the best answer we have to those teenagers who continue to ask us these impossible questions.
Maybe the only answer we need to give, over and over and over again, is that of John the Baptist, of Paul, of so many others, of pointing to Jesus. Jesus who played and loved and prayed and was crucified and rose. Our answer, our decoder ring to the world around us, cannot be found in a set of facts, or formulas, but in a person, God incarnate, Jesus Christ. May we have hope to believe that is answer enough.
Director of Youth Ministries