Last week, returning from a wonderful vacation visiting our sons and granddaughter in Michigan, as my wife and I waited on a connecting flight home, we learned about the tragic events of the school shooting in Uvalde TX. I could not believe that we were, once again, witnessing the aftermath of another mass murder of our children.
I became fearful for the future of our children and then very angry on a level that I have rarely experienced in my lifetime. Angry at law makers who only seem to give reasons and excuses for why they are unable to find common ground and solutions. Angry at myself for my feelings of impotence and helplessness. Angry at my own complacency and lack of action. Angry that the promise of our thoughts and prayers now feels hollow and is no longer enough. Angry at God.
How do so many people live in a perpetual state of fear and rage? I was beginning to learn how as I too experienced these strong emotions.
A dear friend stopped attending worship services a few months ago. The images of children in Ukraine being killed or uprooted from their lives to become refuges had affected her at a very deep, visceral level. She is hurt and angry with God. “If God can create the universe in six days, He can stop these senseless wars. I can’t worship a god that would allow this to happen. Why pray when the prayers are not answered?” My friend is waiting for God to do something, to set things right again, to bring about change.
This story was at the forefront of my mind as I began to struggle with my own anger.
A few days later, I opened the church for a prayer vigil for anyone who wished to come for silent prayer, for support from each other, or just to be present with God. A small bowl of incense was smoldering, filling the altar with smoke. I sat in one of the pews watching the changing patterns of smoke as it began to drift towards me, and I prayed.
I prayed for the safety of our children. I prayed for those who had died. I prayed for those left behind to mourn. I told God that I was angered by all of this and that I was angry at Him. While praying, I began to hear in my mind one of the things my mother said to me so many times as I was growing up, “This is your mess. You clean it up.”
By the end of the prayer vigil, my anger had abated, and I had come to a new understanding of what our thoughts and our prayers mean. We cannot stop at thoughts and prayers alone. Prayer is only the first step in fixing the mess that we have made.
If the disciples had stopped at thoughts and prayers as they hid from the Jewish authorities after Jesus died and rose from the dead, the Church would have never come into existence. People would have never experienced the grace and forgiveness that Christ Jesus death provided. The disciples would have never changed the world.
My prayers have changed from asking God to fix our mess to prayers seeking discernment and trust in His guidance and acceptance that He will equip me to do His work.
As St. Francis of Assisi said, “Make me an instrument of your peace.”