CLERGY CORNER: Why sending thoughts and prayers amidst tragedy matters

Posted on 09 November 2017 by LeslieM

This is an open letter to those understandably frustrated at the “thoughts and prayers” sentiment made by people of faith during times of tragedy.

I confess that I am an idealist,. not always in the truest philosophical sense; think Clark Griswold (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation): high expectations followed by the disappointment of reality.

For example, I guess it was my years of watching Ponch and John ride tandem down California’s 405 that led me to believe all workplace duos share the same level of camaraderie. Imagine my surprise when one of the first captains I was paired to fly with wouldn’t shake my hand. I wish I could say he was a rarity in the profession, but sadly I flew with many jerks, albeit well-qualified jerks.

So I dreamed of the day when I would be the captain and could decorate my home with thousands of tiny, non-blinking, white lights. Oh, but when I flipped that switch, the lights didn’t come on. I thought once I was captain I could control all aspects of inter-personal relationships, that all would be peachy on the flight deck. Needless to say, I found myself disappointed. I learned quickly that there are far too many factors to control, and, though I may be in charge of the plane, I wasn’t in charge of much overall — a lesson in humility.

Have you ever tried to control a situation to no avail, or made it worse? Has a situation or tragedy made you feel powerless, defeated or overwhelmed? When I experience these feelings, I send my thoughts and prayers.

Why thoughts? For me, because I’m selfish and need to stop and redirect what I’m thinking about and fulfill my humanity by thinking of others, to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Offering my thoughts says I am with you in that I agree you have been wronged. It’s that President Bush moment whilst standing upon the rubble of 9/11 saying, “I hear you; the rest of the world hears you.” My offering of thoughts says to the victims: I hear you and you will not suffer alone.

Why prayers? Because praying reminds me I’m not God. Praying reminds me that we have a God that, as we earnestly seek Him, will not abandon us (Hebrews 13:5). And just as it was naïve of me to think I could control everything as a captain, it would be even more naïve to think amidst a national or global tragedy that I am the solution or know the solution. However, on my knees, I am seeking God in if, how and when I am to personally respond, yielding to the wisdom of a God who is sovereign — measure twice, cut once.

Additionally, I find hope in knowing, as Jon Courson writes in Praying Thru the Tabernacle, “that the burdens that are so heavy to me are no problem for Him.” Hope, because in that time of prayer, I am reminded of God’s nature and character, that He is active: He sent His son to die on a cross for all our sins. My first action then, in any situation, is to humble myself and return to the feet of the One who acted first.

Sending thoughts and prayers is a healthy and humble way for the faithful to affirm unity and remind those affected where to find hope — their everlasting hope — and take the appropriate action without adding to the harm.

Romans 8:36-39 says, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” … despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow — not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below. Indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

C.J. Wetzler is the NextGen pastor at The Church at Deerfield Beach. Before transitioning into full-time ministry, CJ was a commercial airline captain and high school leadership and science teacher. For questions or comments connect with him though social media: @thecjwetzler.

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