Ten years ago today, I found myself driving in circles in the Allen elementary school parking lot. Josiah was in kindergarten there, and that day, I just needed to know that everyone at Allen elementary was okay, though I am not sure how I would be able to tell from my car. For at least 10 minutes, I kept driving around the parking lot and I just couldn’t bring myself to leave. It was irrational and bizarre, and looking back now, I realize that I probably made lots of people in the school nervous. But I was just drawn there and it took all my strength to finally pull out of the parking lot after about 10 laps.
I was in that parking lot then because ten years ago today, twenty-six people (six educators and twenty first graders) were killed in Sandy Hook elementary. In 2012, those students were just a year older than my son which means they would be 11th graders today. They would be thinking about college and/or getting into the work force. They would be as tall as their parents, if not taller. They would be on the verge of launching into young adulthood with hopes and dreams and fears. But ten years ago, a gunman changed that for them, and for their families.
In these ten years, we have seen hundreds of mass shootings, including another one at an elementary school in Uvalde, TX, where nineteen children and two educators were killed. These events are beyond heartbreaking. And it is these kinds of tragedies that are the hardest to reconcile with God’s promise of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love during Advent. How do we hold evil acts of violence alongside the promises of the Christ child?
There are some kinds of pain and suffering that just can’t be explained through creative theological maneuvering. Trying to find tidy answers to this profound human struggle is trite and worthless. There are no tidy answers. But this is what I know: God didn’t want those children or their families to suffer like this. God didn’t allow this to happen. God isn’t indifferent to the ache caused by these losses. And certainly, the sometimes forced “happiness” of this season can fall flat in the face of such human pain. All we can do is sit with the ambiguity and try not to have our hearts harden. We have to try to hold onto hope when it feels hopeless. We have to remember that love and equity does bring healing into the world even when progress is painfully slow. And we can also rage at God when it becomes too much. Our ancestors have been raging for millennia (just flip through the Psalms) and God remains steadfast in God’s presence.
Wherever you find yourself today emotionally or spiritually, hand it over to God. God can take it and wants to take it. That is part of the promise too.