When the news first broke about the Orlando shooting, I watched the TV in disbelief. I headed to church, and we prayed for those who were involved even though details were still sketchy at that point. As the next few days unfolded and more details emerged about the horrific situation, I found myself tuning it all out. Rather than feeling compassion, sorrow, empathy or righteous indignation, I became numb. Emotionally, I refused to emotionally engage.
Normally I follow the news very closely, and I keep up with the headlines from a variety of sources. With other tragedies, I followed the latest developments and regularly discussed it with my husband, co-workers and my family. But this time I blocked it out. I couldn’t bring myself to click on any of the articles on social media, especially the ones politicizing the death of 49 people within hours of the shooting.
Then I started examining my heart and the reason behind my avoidance and lack of response, much less action, to this tragedy. Was I numb to it because mass shootings have, unfortunately, become a normal part of the world we live in? Had I become a cold, cynical person who wasn’t capable of empathy or grief? Was it because I didn’t know anyone personally affected?
While all of these could be contributing factors, I believe my response, or lack thereof, actually revealed the state of my heart. I wasn’t being moved to action or justice. I didn’t enter into the suffering of an entire tribe of people who have very deep wounds. I failed them.
Lamentations 3 reminds us of the need for mourning: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” And Romans 12:15 tells us to “mourn with those who mourn.” Having faith requires me to enter into the suffering of others, to be moved to compassion and, when necessary, action. I must make this choice even when I don’t feel like it – especially when I don’t feel like it.
My response to the apathy in my own heart is to pray that God would give me a tender spirit that is sensitive to the pain of others. If I can’t mourn with those who are far away, an action that requires very little commitment, how will I grieve with someone who is part of my daily life?
My prayer is that I will be moved to pursue justice and peace on behalf of others because I can mourn with them and enter into their plight. My prayer for the church is the same – that we would not hide behind our detachment but instead do the messy and necessary work of engaging with the world’s hurt.