I felt a surge of mom guilt (common condition, I know) after I dropped the babies in carpool this morning. The devotion on the way to school was on ‘radical prayer’ – praying for big things, for far away things/people, miracles even., They both inserted the fill in the blank with Texas and Florida, hurricane victims in those states, still trying to recover and rebuild. I felt an uncomfortable twinge at the mention of Texas. Only 3 days ago, yet another school shooting, 10 people no longer on this side of heaven, a wave of aftermath only beginning. I felt compelled to tell them there was another reason to pray for Texas and it had nothing to do with natural disasters.
I deeply want to protect my children but I also want to arm and maybe disarm them sometimes with the hard truths of the world they are growing up in. I want them to have not only self-awareness, but acute awareness of the day to day around them. My 7 year old daughter’s first words, ‘their parents must be devastated’. I told her they were for sure and deeply needed prayers. Slightly hesitant, but I quickly steered the conversation to the shooter and how he and his parents needed prayer too. Not surprisingly, they both gasped from the back seat – I think my son even muttered, ‘he should have been killed too.’
I sighed deeply and went on to say this is yet another form of ‘radical prayer’ – praying where it feels undeserved, hopeless, for someone who seems beyond the least – a monster even. In my own quiet prayers the morning after the shooting, tears brimmed my eyes thinking about how the horrific acts of one human devastated and took from so many. Like a rock thrown in the pond – single action, endless ripples. I thought of all those parents who told their children goodbye Friday morning, never thinking it may be the last goodbye they’d say. I thought of them being that 1st morning after. If they slept, was there that moment when they first woke up, a split second of a new day – before the reality washed heavy over them. I thought of the gunman’s parents. I thought of the guilt, shame, responsibility, sadness, confusion – their new reality as well. As a mom, looking around at my own sleepy family, enjoying a quiet Saturday morning – my prayers and thoughts lingered on all those families that would never be together again on this earth.
So, back to this morning and ‘radical prayer’. I told the babies that the gunman was a student and that other students and teachers were his victims. I said the news reported that there were ‘warning signs’. I said in these tragedies, that’s usually what’s looked for in the aftermath – what could have been recognized that wasn’t? Could it have been prevented or stopped? Someone or something to blame and a quest to answer ‘why’ – human nature at its core.
I then asked them about kids in their class. The quiet one. The one alone at recess. The one who talks too loud or too much. The one who has no friends. The one who can’t keep up. The one who gets picked on. The one who cries too much. The least among them everyday.
We talk a lot about the least in our devotions and conversations. They know the least are Jesus’ favorite. The ones He seeks most. The ones He calls us to love as He loved. The ones He benchmarks our love for Him against – ‘whatever you’ve done for them, you’ve done for me’. I preach that to them and I take to heart my own failures in it everytime.
I did tell them I was proud of them because I know they’ve both stood up for the least. I know they’ve both sought children who are alone on the playground. I know they’ve helped classmates when they’ve completed their own work. They are being raised to know that they are expected to bless others because they are blessed. I’ve seen them fail at this. I’ve seen them fall in-line with ‘the most’ and do the common, easy thing and not the needed thing. And though it selfishly hurts my mama heart, I’ve also seen them be the least and learn hard-won compassion because of it.
My daughter questioned my timing of sharing this tragedy with them as we were making our way through the carpool line. I said they did not need to be afraid to go to school. I don’t want them to be afraid. I said I want them to be aware like they are anywhere. If someone or something looks out of place or doesn’t feel right – tell someone. Don’t be in places you shouldn’t be and try to make good choices. ‘You do not have to be afraid to go to school – period.’
‘Instead of being fearful, I want you to be mindful and kind. Make that your priority today. Look for someone who could use a friend, a kind word, even a smile. Be the bright spot in someone’s day – it may be their only one. Love one another – be the hands and feet…show others Jesus in you.’ As they were exiting, it was the usual ‘love you, have a good day’ and as the door was being closed, ‘just be kind’.
As I said, I drove away feeling a little guilt. What mom tells her kids of a school shooting, Monday morning, on the way to school. This mom I guess. It felt urgent and it felt like the opportune time. It was an in the moment, off the cuff choice – epitome of this mom job, I’d say.
I made another in the moment choice over the weekend. After that quiet time Saturday morning, thinking of all these now broken and devastated families, I invited my 9 year old to come help feed homeless people with me and some people from our church. He’s younger than the ‘recommended age’ but I told him to act 12 and say he was 10. He was nervous and because of his slight stature said, ‘I don’t even really look 9.’ I assured him it would fine and it was. He not only helped prepare the food as our visitors showered, did laundry, got their haircut and finished breakfast but when it was lunchtime, he stood down the table from me, all by himself and served.
My heart was overwhelmed watching my little boy smile, chat and serve. He was being a blessing, a bright spot, truly loving the least. When we left, he was beaming. His first words, ‘that’s one of the most AMAZING things I’ve ever done!’, I just embraced him, my heart overwhelmingly full. I told him I knew the feeling. I loved hearing his recount of all those he’d served and their reaction to him – a blessing two-fold indeed.
I’m trying to teach my kids that loving others and putting ourselves second yields true joy. That good feeling in your soul, that sunshine from within – that’s where it’s at. I’ve admitted that it’s easy to crave that and selfishly do for others because it makes us feel good. But God sees through that so we need to be careful and honest. That moment with him though was perfect to illustrate that when we honor the way God calls us to love, beginning with the least – that good feeling is because we’re living in a real, intended way – we’re answering God’s call on each of us.
I believe the gravity of all this boils simply down for me and what I want them to learn in this hard moment. We are responsible for each other. It’s a big, broken, disjointed, messy, confusing, frightening, sometimes terrible, but often beautiful life we get to live. And we don’t live it alone, we are not meant to. We can only do what we can do, but we must do something. Pretending we’re on an island and that we don’t need others and they don’t need us is simply untrue and can never fulfill us.
John Wesley’s famous quote says it best –
Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
As simple and as hard as that. Radical prayer, needed. Radical love, needed as much, if not more. Beginning in the everyday. With the person in front of you, beside you and especially the one behind you. Aspiring to love as He loves. Appreciating our gifts and blessings by using them to love and serve others. To know bad things absolutely will happen and the worst will only get worse – doesn’t it always seem to. Rocks will be thrown in the water all the time, in all measures and degrees.
And to that end, I believe we’re each, in our way, very much a rock – always making ripples. The greatest ripple to send out is love and the least among us are the ones who need to be reached by it the most.
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me’