What do I do when tragedy strikes? Here are 5 action steps.
Bad news is everywhere. It’s easy to become calloused when you hear so many tragic stories of everything going on in the world. Our hearts can’t handle the constant barrage of heartbreak. Most of us turn the channel and move on with our lives.
But what do you do when tragedy strikes close to home?
A few months ago, a shooting took place at the Boise mall. The shooter killed two victims and injured four more. The atmosphere of our city was different all week. Fear and sobriety permeated a majority of my conversations in the days following the event.
Whether it is a national incident that sends shockwaves worldwide (George Floyd, Capitol Riot, etc.), or a personal loss that impacts only a few people, some events are inescapable. How do we navigate these challenging times in which we live?
Here are five things you can do when tragedy strikes:
1. Pray (and fast).
The first and best response to disaster is prayer. Even people without faith acknowledge this when saying, “sending thoughts and prayers” or changing their profile picture to #prayfor___. A lot of people talk about praying. What we need is people who actually pray.
Nehemiah provides a perfect example. He was extremely distraught when he learned the condition of the Jews living in Jerusalem who returned from exile. What did he do?
“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” (Neh. 1:4)
Prayer is the perfect place to grieve with God. Fasting is a way of mourning with our bodies. Both of these practices are seen time and time again in the Bible by people of faith.
“Prayer is the perfect place to grieve with God. Fasting is a way of mourning with our bodies.”
2. Stop scrolling.
Digital addiction is real. We all could probably do with less screen time. Powering down is especially important when social media is blowing up with article after article about something horrible that happened.
The temptation is to read anything and everything that shows up on the news feed. The reason this isn’t helpful is that it takes you down a rabbit hole. One of the curses of social media is that you not only get the news, but you also get everyone’s comments along with it.
If you find yourself going down the rabbit hole, turn off your phone for a few hours. Try going for a walk or talking with an actual person. Clear your head and resist the urge to be glued to your screen. You don’t have to keep track of every new detail because you aren’t the one sitting on the throne.
“You don’t have to keep track of every new detail because you aren’t the one sitting on the throne.”
3. Process your feelings.
Endless scrolling is problematic because it distracts us from emotional processing. We are so busy reading what everyone else thinks about a situation that we don’t have time to figure out how we feel. Everyone processes a little differently, but there are some tried and true practices.
- Journaling is a great way to list out your feelings. For me, by the time the ink has dried, I already feel more at ease.
- Prayer is more than simply asking God to move. You can take a break from intercession and talk to God about how you are doing. The psalms provide an excellent guide for this kind of prayer.
- Conversations with trusted friends are constructive in hard times. Find someone who isn’t going to argue or try to fix you. When we spend time around a non-anxious presence, it tends to rub off.
- Counseling is always a good option if an event profoundly impacts you. Take note if you find yourself carrying around residual anxiety, depression, or panic attacks. You might not find the right counselor the first time, but don’t give up on seeking professional help altogether.
4. Let Scripture shape your perspective.
Tragedy has a way of muddying the water. Just when we think we have life figured out, the fog rolls in, and suddenly we don’t know where we are going. In times like this, God’s Word can quite literally show you the path forward.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105)
I’m always shocked how many Christians echo the perspectives of cultural majorities. We are far too quick to like/comment/share an article that seems legitimate. If you are not careful, you might be misleading others.
The truth of Scripture has a way of cutting through lies, misinformation, and lack of clarity. We desperately need somewhere to turn in order to answer questions about justice, life, death, hope, and suffering. The Bible is that book.
Choose Scripture over scrolling.
5. Be helpful (if you can).
It’s not always possible to help out during a tragedy. If there is nothing you can do personally, you can always pray specific prayers for those involved. But sometimes, opportunities to be helpful present themselves.
Gofundme pages often pop up to help offset the costs of funerals or medical treatments. You can sign up for a meal train or bring someone a coffee. It doesn’t have to be a massive act. In our darkest moments, even the smallest acts of kindness are monumental.
(For more from Joshua, check out joshuabranham.com.)