Tragedy After Tragedy — Are We Growing Numb?

young woman sitting in coffeeshop, holding phone, looking sadly outside window.
After the Brussels bombing in 2016, I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of despair.

My college roommate and I got down on our knees in the middle of our apartment and prayed. We cried. We meditated. And we prayed some more.

We decided to write down the different countries and cities that had recently been under terrorist attack or were undergoing trauma of some sort. It was a long list. For a short period of time, my friend and I glimpsed what it means to carry someone else’s burden from a distance, and as Paul writes, bearing someone’s burden fulfills law of Christ.  We promised to pray for those countries each day. And we did.

But not for long.

Since that time, I haven’t really felt that sort of fiery burden. I haven’t really felt an overwhelming surge of needing to mourn with those who mourn and take on someone’s devastation as my own.

But after hearing about the shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland on June 28, I felt more than the need to carry the burden of those journalists — quite frankly, I felt personally shaken.

It all hit me at once — I, too, am a journalist, and a shooting like that could happen to me.

After reading about the incident, I imagined someone who was looking to kill coming into my newsroom. I pictured what I would’ve done. I felt nauseous.

But my anguish and terror were only so poignant because it was about me. I cared about this situation because I had a personal tie to it.

And that’s not OK.

Often, even as a reporter, I get news off Facebook and Twitter. Social media is a double-edged sword when it comes to news. It does an unbelievable job of efficiently  informing millions of people, but it fails when horrific news pops up on newsfeeds across the world in the same way memes and GIFs show up.

Breaking news stories, like mass shootings, natural disasters and international oppression are announced in a flash, just like every other post. The sense of urgency and anguish is lost when a meme of SpongeBob SquarePants follows a post about a recent terrorist attack.

Facebook isn’t the problem.

Sure it would be easy to point the finger at social media, as sometimes it can be a vehicle that promotes vanity.  But Facebook isn’t evil or wrong or selfish in and of itself.

It’s about monitoring what we allow ourselves to see and how we process what we’ve seen.

What would it look like if I reacted in the same way to international oppression and school shootings the same way I did to the Capital Gazette shooting?

School shootings seem to be happening more and more. And sadly, the more I see these tragedies pop up on my newsfeed in between ridiculous videos and memes, the more desensitized I become.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I don’t believe school shootings should be trivialized — That’s exactly my point. Shootings are devastating realities are beyond words heinous.

But why doesn’t a tragedy like a shooting stick with us? Why do we say a quick prayer and then move on to focus on our day?

I’m not saying all people do this, but I find myself becoming more desensitized to oppression and injustice, though that injustice isn’t necessarily going anywhere.

I’m curious how my prayer posture, my dependency on the Lord’s sovereignty and my overall faith in the goodness of God would look if I didn’t just say a quick, half-hearted prayer every time I scrolled past a tragedy of some sort. I wonder how love for people would strengthen if I bore the burdens of someone else?

How do you “bear” someone’s burden?

I don’t think that Paul had world tragedies in mind when he said to bear others’ burdens. He was talking about people of faith living in community with one another, as the disciples did — supporting each other in every way. But Paul didn’t have Facebook, where we hear about a terrorist attack within minutes of it happening.

What does it look like to bear the burden of someone who lives in another country, state or city?

I don’t pretend to know exactly what that looks like. But I do think it means to carry that other person’s burden with you. To remember it and prioritize it. And to pray for it specifically.

There are countless inequalities, tragedies and injustices going on in the US and other parts of the world. Finding a burden isn’t hard. But carrying that burden can feel tricky.

I’d recommend literally carrying it with you. Write it on a sticky note at work to pray over. Remember throughout the day that even though these people are suffering or this issue needs deliverance, the goodness of God is still at work and has the ability to set free and transform.

Set small goals when first deciding to carry a burden. Maybe say you’ll take five minutes out of each day to pray specifically for that issue. Or maybe say you’ll volunteer time or donate monthly to a cause. Maybe it’s educating yourself on a specific issue or people group.

The power of prayer is real.

Are we doing all we can as people who were designed to live in both physical and spiritual community with one another? If we don’t seek to understand one another and carry the hardship of our neighbor, like Christ did, we miss an opportunity to grasp a little bit more of what the fullness of the glory of God looks like.

I don’t want to scroll past injustices or world disasters, pray quickly and then move on with my day. If we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to transform and set free, we have no excuse to sit still and remain silent.

I challenge you, as I am challenging myself in this, to carry someone’s burden with you. Remember it. Pray for it. Meditate on it. And pray again.

How do you react when you hear about a tragedy far away? Are you growing desensitized? Do you say a quick prayer and move on?

About the Author

Dani Fitzgerald
Dani Fitzgerald Brown

Dani Fitzgerald Brown is a small-town journalist living in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, a small city outside of Pittsburgh. She’s married to her best friend, Mike Brown, who can make her laugh no matter the circumstance. Dani often listens to audiobooks, drinks copious amounts of mint tea and is constantly munching on popcorn.