Tears streamed down the woman’s face as she embraced me. “I’m so sorry about your daughter” were the only words I could muster. I was working as a consultant for homicide detectives who were investigating the rape and murder of one young girl and the violent rape of another.
I’ve witnessed many such cases in my work both as a counselor and as a homicide profiler/investigator. Over three decades I’ve seen enough tears to fill the ocean and felt enough emotional weight to crush a diamond. It never gets easier. In so many of these cases, I heard similar words. “Why me?” “Why did God allow this?” “What is the world coming to?” I often have no answers, and my silence sometimes convicts me. When my son was quite young and he saw me on the news at a homicide scene, with tentativeness in his voice he asked me, “Will the bad man get you?” Even though I knew the answer was probably “no,” I could make him no promises. Over the years as I raised my children I often wondered how I could teach them to have faith in God’s provision when I knew that there was no promise that tragedies couldn’t befall them.
WE CAN’T ESCAPE TRAGEDY
Loss isn’t limited to sudden death, family tragedy, or personal pain. Sometimes tragedy is global, like war, natural disaster, and acts of terrorism. But regardless of the scope, all of these events shake the foundation of our worlds. We cope with the potential for tragedy by believing it can’t happen to us. Other people die in car accidents. Other families lose their loved ones to cancer, and strangers are killed by earthquakes or car bombs.
Our voluntary obliviousness allows us to cope, but when we face disaster head-on this coping skill ceases to work for us.
A cursory reading of scripture makes it seem like we just need to sit back and relax and everything will be fine. In Psalm 55:22, we are told: “Cast your burden on the LORD and he will sustain you” (NIV). In Matthew 6:25, we are told that the birds of the air don’t sow or reap, but God takes care of them. In Luke 12:24, we read something similar—God cares for the lilies of the fields, even though they don’t do anything. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus tells us to let him carry our burdens. I’m not convinced this means that our faith will keep tragedy at bay. In Philippians 4:6, we are told to present our requests to God, but many times I have done so and God seemingly didn’t hear me.
Some years ago, I was teaching a college counseling course in Chile. One of my students was a Christian man who had taken several of my courses over the years and knew of my Christian faith. “I have a question,” he said to me. “I know God will provide for me, but sometimes I worry. I have been out of a job for almost a year. But God will find me a job, won’t he?” What could I say? Could I promise him a job? Could I speak for God? Platitudes might help perpetuate the myth that “all will be fine,” but they also ignore the truth that things don’t always work out the way we want. “Let me be honest with you,” I told him. “I know our scriptures teach us that God sees the sparrow and the flowers of the field, but the truth is that people die of starvation every day. People lose their jobs, and tragedy sometimes finds us. But this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care for us.”
I tried, hopefully not in vain, to impress on him that the comfort of God’s care goes well beyond this world. At Gethsemane, God’s own Son prayed for his burden to be taken from him, but God said no. Tradition teaches that well over half of the apostles met tragic, unnatural deaths. Why would things be any different for us?
The lesson is that our home is elsewhere and what happens in this hour is irrelevant in the context of eternity. It just seems relevant when we are standing in the midst of sadness.
As a young boy, I was walking one morning with my grandmother through the forest around her home picking blackberries for breakfast. The sun was warm on my shoulders, and the weeds were dewy on my bare feet. Ever the leader, I was fifteen feet in front of my grandmother and my cousin, scampering toward the next bramble I could see, when my grandmother yelled at me to stop. Just in front of me was a huge copperhead that lay hiding among the weeds. My grandmother told me not to move, and she sent my cousin to fetch a shotgun. I stood stock still for nearly ten minutes, trusting my grandmother. I couldn’t see the snake, but I wasn’t the least bit afraid. I assumed she knew what to do. After the snake was shot and killed, she led me over to where its headless body lay. It was so cleverly disguised that we were nearly on top of it before I could see the five-foot-long serpent. I could easily have lost my life that day, but I didn’t. I didn’t have to know the snake was there or even how to look for a snake. Even though I eventually learned this skill, my grandmother did that for me when I was a child. I trusted her, and she took care of me.
What a great analogy! We don’t have to be afraid, even when the world seems to be collapsing around us. Proverbs 3:5–6 teaches us not to lean on our own understanding. Thank goodness. If I had to do that, even in this temporal world, I very likely would have died of a snake bite on a summer morning when I was eight years old. How much more so can we find comfort in this truth when we face things of an eternal nature? Terrorists with car bombs, IEDs, or airplanes can’t change the fact that, in the end, God walks with us. Over our shoulders, when we think we are leading, he whispers to us like my grandmother—I’ll take care of you. Our walk in the woods is part of a bigger plan. I don’t have to know the plan but I know the Way.
BE NOT AFRAID
When my children were growing up, I regularly felt the urge to make sure they didn’t face any pain or difficulties, but I knew in my heart that I would be cheating them if I did that.
They didn’t need a life that was pain-free. They needed me to teach them the skills they would require when inevitable pain arose before them. Teaching those skills was a much better gift to them.
Teaching our children to manage fear begins with managing it ourselves.
Children watch us and how we handle fear and anxiety. We have to live our faith as we face our troubles. Our conversations and our behavior should portray a solid belief that nothing in this world can threaten us. Matthew 10:28 says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (NASB). As Jesus knelt before the Father on the night of his betrayal, he faced exhaustion, humiliation, and brutal pain. But his example shows us as parents how to manage our fear. Not our will, but thine, our Father.
Stay tuned for Part 2 How to Talk to Your Kids About Fear.
*This article originally appeared in Conversations vol 11.2, Fall/Winter 2013. www.conversationsjournal.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D., is a college professor, published author, licensed counselor, newspaper columnist, and public speaker. Dr. Moffatt has served as a regular lecturer at the FBI Academy, a profiler with the Atlanta Cold Case Squad, and consultant to numerous airlines, businesses, and schools. He has appeared on ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX News, as well as America’s Most Wanted. He holds an M.A. in counseling and a Ph.D. in psychology from Georgia State University and has taught at the college level for over twenty years.