When the News Is Too Much to Bear

When the News Is Too Much to Bear

How to help your group members experience hope after yet another tragedy

Often in the lull of late afternoon, coffee cup in hand, I will peruse the Internet to see what is happening in my community, city, country, and world. One day, in the shadow of the Paris bombings, I read about Colorado Springs and the refugee crisis. I read about discrimination, poverty, hunger, anger, and fear across the globe, and I felt the weight of the news.

The night before, my college-aged daughter had sent me a poem by a young Somali-British writer named Warsan Shire who wrote:

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered

As the overwhelming depth and breadth of that pain sunk in, my computer pinged with a news alert about San Bernardino. It was too much. I actually began to shake with tears of rage and sorrow.

We live in a broken, fallen world.

As a follower of Jesus, I believe in the power of the Cross and Resurrection, and I believe that Jesus can redeem and restore all things. But the world I live in right now, today, is full of anxiety, bitterness, grief, and conflict. People are suffering. The hurt is everywhere. It's pervasive, overwhelming, and traumatic. The world seems out of control, dangerous, and dark, and we feel lost, small, and powerless. How, then, as a small-group leader, do I reflect the hope of a Savior who offers grace, love, and peace to the heavy hearts of those in my group?

Wisdom in Luke

In her book, Trauma & Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World, Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary in New York, asks how we become a community that understands and bears witness to the depth of divine love and at the same time is profoundly aware of and affected by complex tragedy. Scheduled to give a lecture to a group of pastors six days after 9/11, Jones wrestled with what it means to live and speak the gospel in the midst of such violence, heartache, and rupture. She turned to the story in Luke 24 about the two men on the Road to Emmaus. It's the same story I looked to when the Sandy Hook tragedy occurred the day before our small-group leader Christmas party, and it's the same story I use today to guide me as a small-group leader wanting to care for group members who may feel helpless and hopeless because of the overwhelming weight of a hurting world.

In chapter 24, Luke introduces us to two disciples who are trying to make sense out of the devastating, traumatic death of their beloved leader. Even though they themselves were not tortured or killed, they bear some sense of trauma in their own bodies and souls. Their world that once held meaning and purpose has been shattered. Their futures that once held promise and hope now feel empty and dark.

On their walk to Emmaus, the two men try to make sense of what has happened in an attempt to pick up the pieces and reorder their lives. Luke gives us an account of what they're discussing. It's kind of a crazed recounting of the tragic events with a huge gaping hole in the middle of the story. I can only imagine the tangled thoughts and confused emotions behind their outpouring as they feel the weight of a world marred by violence and loss. Then Luke says Jesus suddenly is with them. The men do not recognize Jesus, but he listens to them, interrupts them, and then goes with them to share a meal.

Have you ever listened to people overwhelmed by suffering? Often they're disoriented because the things that provided meaning, structure, safety, and possibility in their lives have been shattered. The two men on Emmaus road are devastated witnesses to a horrifically traumatic killing of their leader and friend, the person they believed would be their king and savior. On many levels, they're struggling to find their way, and in the midst of that confusion, they don't recognize Jesus. Like these two men, we too can hold terror, sorrow, anger, and confusion in a dark and troubled world. We can get a little manic, ramble, feel lost, and not see Jesus. But this passage says Jesus himself came near and went with the men. In their overwhelmed, confused state, they didn't need to figure out how to reach Jesus—he goes to them. And he wants to hear what they're discussing.

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