Kent Ingle: After El Paso & Dayton, here are 5 ways to process grief in the face of tragedy
By Kent Ingle
Published August 07, 2019
After the shootings this weekend in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, it feels like our nation is under continuous attack -- under the attack of racism, hatred, and our right to human life.
There was a time when we were so rattled by just one of these tragic events, let alone two. These shootings have seemed a recurring nightmare in our nation. When these events have become so frequent that they are white noise on the news, it is terrifying. It makes me stop and ask, “Is this really our nation? Is this reckless chaos really happening in America?” It has caused us more pain than sometimes feels bearable. Whether or not you were affected by the deaths of these shootings, they cause us to consider the fragility of life and the suffering so many are currently facing.
There is no easy way to explain the purpose of suffering on this earth, especially when the pain from the loss of life runs deeper than most any of us can bear. It wasn’t what God initially intended for us. God is the creator and giver of all things good and beautiful, but our world is broken and, as of late, truly horrific.
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While these senseless tragedies are certainly avoidable, not all suffering in this life is. I’ve learned this myself, having suffered loss at a young age. At the age of 21, I lost my father to a sudden heart attack, and then years back I faced the tragic loss of my sister and brother-in-law due to a drunk driver. How we handle such tragedies and suffering will not only determine how we will approach other struggles in life but consequently the resilience of our faith.
Though there is no simple process to overcoming grief, here are five principles I’ve learned from significant people in my life on how to process and handle our pain in the midst of facing tragedy:
- Release your grief. While this is the most immediate step, and maybe the most obvious, it certainly is not the easiest for many of us. While the pain can feel sharp, bitter and very real, releasing your grief means allowing yourself to express the emotions you are feeling. There is a pool of anger, fear, and doubt that accompanies grief. Until we release these things and allow them to be felt, we cannot process our pain. Matthew 5:4 reads, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (NIV). There is no shame in mourning, expressing disappointment or pain. This is the purpose of prayer. This is one reason why God calls us to come to Him. God clearly expects these things will happen while we are on this earth. He wants you to vocalize them, to cry out your pain so you can be comforted by His Spirit. This leads us to the next point.
- Let others come alongside you. It is very natural during times of grief for us to want to be secluded from others, to shelter ourselves and suppress emotions. In fact, God has created and commanded us to encourage and comfort each other. If ever there is a time we need the support of others in our lives, it is moments such as these. As 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (NCV). This is one of the many reasons the local church is so vital for our communities and our lives.
- Refuse to allow bitterness to take root in your life. Throughout my life, I have been amazed to see the difference between those who have much and are bitter with God and life, and those who would have every reason to become angry and resentful, but choose to live in complete joy. It’s not because they just happen to fall into it, or they are naive to their circumstances. It is because they choose joy, and they choose to place their hope and happiness in a power much greater than this earth could ever offer.
- Return to what you truly value. Disasters have a way of drastically shifting our perspective and allowing us to clearly see what we truly value in this life. Though the pain is unfathomable at times, allow it to be a season that returns you to the people and missions that you value most. Your relationship with God, your family, and friends are the most valuable on this earth.
- Lean on God. This is where a daily relationship and practice of prayer will make all the difference in our lives. When we can come to God daily, we are actively placing our trust and hope in Him. Scripture says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5, ESV). When you can stay steady in God for direction and for your salvation, nothing can shake you.
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The recent shootings and this recurring state of tragedy in our nation are so painful they seem surreal. But regardless of what comes tomorrow, our ultimate hope lies in our creator. He is our anchor. Whether you are a victim of this horrific weekend or currently are facing your own difficulty, allow yourself to release the grief, allow yourself to process it, and allow God to be your source.