As the country still reels from a series of mass shootings from Annapolis to Jacksonville, to Pittsburgh, the frequency of these events may have created an ancillary effect. Where Americans once put our hands over our mouth in horror, an increasing number merely pause to offer a brief tribute of sentiment as consolation.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families” and its alternatives form the predictable and traditional sounds which echo in the wounded peoples’ ears or are seen on social media.
Do these phrases really comfort those burdened by such anguish? Do they move from their ears and eyes to their heart? Instead, the list of questions erupting from wounded souls may extend beyond the horizon:
- “What thoughts?”
- “What prayers?”
- “To whom are you praying?”
- “What reply do you expect?”
In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, the hero didn’t offer thoughts and prayers, but rather action and care.
He first noticed and then approached the assaulted man. Only then could the wounds be bound and the injured man carried to safety. Once there, the Samaritan then ensured sustainable care.
When words fail us, it is understandable to land on a phrase that feels safe and appropriate to say, but to be effective at ministering to the wounds, we must go deeper. With social media and instant news, glibness and optics receive more shelf space than the heart. But care requires something of the caregiver. Instead of the now trite, “…thoughts and prayers,” let us indeed think and pray, but also speak and act with frankness and specificity.
Our thoughts and prayers are between ourselves and God. Our words and actions speak to others.
May we address those forever altered in their pain with such directness as President George W. Bush stated through a megaphone on a pile of rubble so many years ago:
“I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people—and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”
A president standing in carnage met the rawness of 9/11 with forthrightness and leadership.
Carnage provides us with the opportunity to look and see it for what it is—and to speak hope and life to those around us. The only strengthening words are those communicating that the victim is seen, cared for specifically, and a plan is communicated to ensure sustainable care.
Sentiment costs little and rarely comforts. Although costly, leadership always comforts.
The protection of our citizens remains paramount because America feels deeply and cherishes her citizens’ safety at her core. Part of that protection is equipping others to care for and protect themselves. Another part is seeing to those unable to do so.
Let us offer more than thoughts and prayers. Let us offer leadership towards a safer, stronger, and more caring country seeking to assure one another that those who suffer will not do so in isolation.
The most effective leaders are often those responding to that great need of assurance in the face of overwhelming loss. In those moments, our vocabulary changes from stock phrases to specificity.
Leadership in suffering can be as simple as saying, “I see you, and I see the magnitude of your pain and sorrow—and I will work to make sure you don’t endure this alone.” Those words emanate from the heart.
Displaying outrage is a collective pastime. Displaying our hearts requires a greater courage.
From shootings to mental illness to immigration to race, may we be a nation that binds the wounds, regardless of our differences. May we be a people who notice the suffering of those around us.
“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:36-37
While thinking and praying, may we also care for and sustain one other (Matt. 22:39).
Peter Rosenberger is a thirty-year caregiver for his wife Gracie, who lives with severe physical disabilities. He is the author of Hope for the Caregiver and 7 Caregiver Landmines and How You Can Avoid Them. Peter’s radio show for family caregivers broadcast weekly on American Family Radio.