“Are vampires real?” Ellia was in bed, asking with her head under her sheet.
“I don’t want to see them,” she said.
“They aren’t real.” Then I added, “And TV is stupid.”
Fear is real, even if vampires aren’t. Pain is real, even if it doesn’t come to us looking like a Halloween costume.
When the explosion hit West, Texas last night, hundreds of people were thrown to the ground. Buildings were destroyed, homes obliterated, people killed.
People around the nation recognized the horror of the explosion.
And while people were thrown to the ground in West, thousands of others began to pray.
Facebook and Twitter often indicate what’s on our mind. And the message was the same: Pray for West.
We don’t know what to do, so we pray.
I wonder whether or not we recognize the compulsion in ourselves. Something in us knows to cry out. It seems to be a natural behavior—one we’re conditioned to do. Whether or not we normally acknowledge God, it's where we turn.
We recognize that no one here can stop fertilizer plants from exploding. So we appeal to the Creator, to the one reportedly bigger than any tragedy. The One who keeps the earth in orbit.
And when we pray, we might expect miracles. We may be asking for comfort or mercy. We may be asking for protection for those still unaccounted for. And God is capable of providing all of these things.
But when we pray, we also gain God’s heart for people. We see the situation as God sees it—horrific and a cause for mourning. We’re in a position to align ourselves with God.
On normal days, when a town in Texas doesn’t collapse, I often fail to pray for those in deep pain. I don’t have God’s heart for people—I have my own lens through which I view them. I don’t see others as God does—I see nuisances. I see backstabbers. I see people through what they’ve done.
But tragedy draws out the compassion in us. We want to respond, help and give. And we need to recognize that it is this compassion that is already in us. We are people made in the image of the Creator—a creator who cares about creation.
It’s not that tragedy injects compassion into our veins. It uncovers what is already there—an imperative to love as God loves.
And love takes a million forms—first responders, doctors, pastors, people donating blood or money or blankets. Significant, communal loss reminds us of our call to love humanity with the heart of God. It puts us back in touch with who we’re called to be in this world—people who represent God in dark and lonely places.
I have no idea why awful things happen.
I do know we express solidarity with God when we care, when we pray, when we give.
I do know that the reconciling work of God is continually manifested through the hands and feet of those who love.
But I also know in a month, we’ll be tempted to go back to viewing people through our own self-absorbed lens.
As you feel your heart respond to this and other tragedies, recognize that the God-given compassion you feel is alive in you—it’s there under all the busyness and the selfishness and the preoccupation.
Hold on to this reality. Pray to see people as God sees them, not just those in crisis, but those who appear to have it all together. We rightly show extreme generosity and compassion to those affected by tsunamis, terrorist attacks and explosions, but let God remind you of the ongoing pain around you that will never make the news.
We often want to treat the everyday secret pain of our neighbors as if it’s a nonexistent vampire. We pull the sheet over our head. “I don’t want to see it.”
Heartache and loss are real. Look them in the eye.
The truth is, you don’t know who’s hurting, and maybe we don’t always want to know. But if we can put aside the normative, shallow lens, we’ll be more open to regularly participating in the redemptive work of God.
God came to redeem. God came to rescue. God came in human form to right the wrong.
And we’re invited to work alongside this God.
Please pray for West, not just because of the obvious reasons, but because you were made to pray. Please consider what it would mean to help, not because the town is devastated but because you were made to love with your life.
Walk straight into fear with the light that is in you, not just this week, but every day. Open your eyes. And be compelled by the love of Christ to speak to those in pain and comfort those in mourning.