What to Think When the Unthinkable Happens

I’m writing this on Wednesday—seven days since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. The loss of life has been unthinkable. I predict every Wednesday for a long time will be tender and delicate, needing extra attention.

I’m currently a volunteer youth pastor in Florida. I’m a parent, and I write books and blogs for parents. None of this experience registers when I try to fathom the shock, loss, and grief that have made their home in Parkland this week. I have fewer thoughts, just more feelings.

At first, I push the feelings away. My instinct is to find the tangible ways that I can help.

But I realize in the middle of this inner monologue that if I’m going to be able to help others heal, I need to focus on how I feel. I need to allow others to do the same. And it might take a different amount of time for all of us to do that.

Your feelings need to be honored, spoken about, noticed, and cared for. Otherwise, our healing delays; it gets stuck. When we cry out to God and others to express what we feel, it’s easier to know what to do next.

When something unthinkable happens (and it has), think feelings first. Process what’s happening in your thoughts and emotions. Ask yourself why you’re feeling a certain way. Focus on the young people around you. What do they seem to be feeling? If you don’t know, then ask them. Feel what you feel, as long as you need to feel it.

When Jesus faced the loss of his beloved friend Lazarus, He wept. He saw others weeping, and He wept, too.

There is something very sacred and healing about spaces and people who give us permission to feel without worry that we will be judged, shamed, or devalued because of the way we process pain.

There is something very sacred and healing about spaces and people who give us permission to feel without worry that we will be judged, shamed, or devalued because of the way we process pain. Click To Tweet

If you’re not sure what to think right now, think about your current pain and the emotions related to it. Think about what has broken your spirit and allow yourself to feel it.

If it’s too unbearable to feel what you feel by yourself, ask someone to hear your story and share your pain. We carry each other’s burdens, right?

Empathy creates community when isolation begs for us to seal ourselves off to everyone around us. Empathy is the path to being kind to yourself and kind to others. Empathy really is a bridge to connect us to what we all need most—connection.

Empathy creates community when isolation begs for us to seal ourselves off to everyone around us. Click To Tweet

I had to focus on my feelings tonight.

I feel sad and angry. I’m heartbroken for a boy who was created in the image of God—loved, valued, and created for a purpose—who was lost and deceived by lies, confused about what his legacy should be. I feel like we failed him somewhere. I feel devastated for families who don’t get another day with their loved ones. I feel like we failed them, too. I feel confused about what to do.

Teenagers held each other through their last living moments. Teachers pushed through bullets to try to stop them. Parents and loved ones received calls that they will never in a million years forget. Kids are planning funerals. Parents are saying goodbye forever.

I am sorry for the loss our friends feel when they think of those who aren’t in their arms anymore. I wish I could change it. I wish I could do something. But for now, feeling is the first step to doing the right thing, noticing the pain, and not letting it take me to a place I don’t want to go.

As each of us takes a turn holding the feelings of someone else, maybe, just maybe, we will have a clearer picture of who our neighbor is and how we can love them better.

The healing process begins when we tend to the things we feel.

What is the pain that you’re feeling?  Find a way to talk about and share each other’s burdens.

Here’s a little script to help you and others name your feelings.

“I’m feeling _________________.”
“What I normally do when I feel ______________ is _______________.”

Here’s a question you can ask when someone’s actions are alluding to deeper feelings.

“What was going on in your heart just then?”

Use these as a starting point to naming, claiming, and feeling your feelings. Because that is the starting point to healing.

KEEP READING: (Part 2) What to Say When the Unthinkable Happens
FREE RESOURCE: Through The Darkness, a 3-week high school and middle school series designed to help students process grief. tragedy, and hard times
FREE RESOURCE: Crisis Conversation Guides, a resource for Parents of the students in your ministry to have great conversations with their kids

Orange Conference 2018