Praying in Times of Tragedy: some ideas
This was shared Sunday, December 16 during worship, as we came together in prayer. It is connected with the message Everything is Broken, and Flashes of Light.
We may feel, in one way or another, so overwhelmed by tragedy that we don’t know how to pray. And not only do we not know how to pray for a tragedy, it also sometimes keeps us from praying for anything else. We don't know where we fit. Any needs we have may seem to pale in comparison. Anything happening in our neighborhood or home is nothing next to the sadness and horror of losing everything. So we become afraid to bring up prayers in our own lives because they don’t seem important enough. It is all important.
We also, naturally, don’t want such horrible tragedy to touch us. So sometimes we hold these tragedies at arm’s length with our prayers, not intentionally, but it’s too much to take in. We pray for the people in Connecticut, for Syria and Egypt and Iraq and Haiti and the homeless people in our own town. We pray for those people over there. And we watch them like a movie. Our lives colored by their suffering, but our sympathy making no impact on their situation whatsoever. After a while it becomes something we say to placate our discomfort. We pray for them over there. Amen.
So how can we pray for them and keep it real, instead of distant and disconnected, and yet not be overwhelmed by it?
Here are a couple of suggestions.
We might find a single story to follow, one person or family to hold in the light. Perhaps someone that connects to our own experience, that touches our lives in some way. A friend of mine is close with someone who was a first responder, I could find out her name, send her a note, hold her in prayer for a few weeks.
Another friend knows a pastor in a town neighboring Newtown. I could pray for that church community and the love they are pouring out and grief they are bearing for those they know and love.
If you can’t seem to put down the whole tragedy, you could give yourself a set time, such as five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night to pray for all those involved, in whatever way it comes to mind. Name what you are feeling and bearing, or write down the people and situations in a list. Hold them up to God. For five minutes give yourself over to the sadness, anger and pleading that God would do something there. Vent out to God the sorrow and rage and helplessness and frustration. For five minutes pray for all the things you would otherwise carry around feeling heavy about. Then set it down.
You could also give yourself a way to release it when it comes up - to pray in the moment. When the grief and horror washes over you – hold it a moment, imagine God’s light flooding down on that school, into those homes, around that whole town, whisper, God in your mercy! and then let it go.
Then leave it with God – who is there, with them, as they are bearing this with each other. You are here. Be here, with the ones you’ve been given to. And don’t be afraid to pray for what is real in your life right now, the sorrows and the joys, no matter what else is going on in the world.
Ultimately, no matter how it comes out, or from what motives, or tangled up with whatever fears, doubts, or hesitations, God can take it. And we can carry our needs to God together instead of alone. That said, let us bring our prayers to our God, who promises to hear them all.