When a Nation Grieves Together

By January 29, 2020 January 30th, 2020 blog, Discipleship, Faith and Fear, Life and Death

There are certain days in history that get remembered as, “Where were you when you heard ____?”  Unfortunately, it’s typically associated with tragedy and loss.  For previous generations, it was Pearl Harbor and the assassinations of JFK and MLK.  In my lifetime, the first “day” like this for me was September 11th.  I was in art class with Mr. Ferriday.  And then this past Sunday, January 26th, a morning that began like any other Sunday, turned into one of these days.

I had just gotten home from a full day at church, tired but grateful like I often am on Sunday afternoons.  Then my phone vibrates, a text message.  My three older brothers and I have an ongoing text thread and I look down at my phone to see a text from Dave at 2:54pm:

“Kobe Bryant killed in a helicopter crash”

It’s rare that a response to these threads comes right away.  My brothers and I are busy, like everyone else, and it takes time to respond.  But this time, it took all of thirty seconds for this:

Mike: Wow….

Aaron: Stop

Dan: What

There were no additional texts between the brothers for the rest of the day.  I’m sure we all did the same thing – go and start reading, following, watching, and listening for hours upon hours.  We grieved separately, yet in a way, together.  And as I scrolled and read and refreshed Twitter over and over again, I found that this grief was not quarantined to sports fans or those from Los Angeles, it was an entire nation.  And for all the negative aspects of social media, Sunday showed a good side.  That day, we were a nation who grieved together in real time.

And here’s the thing – there was no one to blame this time.  This didn’t get political.  The overreaching outrage that usually consumes social media day in and day out was gone.  It was grief, just raw and emotional grief.  It was a commitment to pray for the surviving family members and to look at one another, in person or digitally, and just be heartbroken together.

One thing I’ve heard a lot over the last 72 hours, including an Instagram post from my brother Dave that spoke for many, is that we’re not really sure why it hit us so hard.  I mean, ok in some ways we know why.  Nine people died in a tragedy.  Kids with their whole lives ahead of them, people who were committed to making the world a better place got taken from it too soon.  A public figure like Kobe is gone who has done so much to shape and mold and inspire a generation not just in sports, but in life, of which I am part of. But even so, it hit so many so hard.  That lump in our throats didn’t go away.

After processing this all for a couple days, this event that shook the nation is more significant than I even initially realized.  A nation that began the day going about life distracted by trivialities and things that don’t ultimately matter was forced to confront the very thing that separates human beings from every other aspect of creation.  We confronted emotion related to death and loss, we confronted the foundational reality that we don’t have near the amount of control we think we do, and ultimately, we had to confront the truth that our days are all numbered.  We all woke up this morning, but none of us are guaranteed the opportunity to go to sleep tonight.  There will be a day for all of us where we’ll wake up and it will be our last day.  And this, I believe, is part of the grief we all experienced.  We don’t need to feel guilty about that, but now it is up to us to lean into the emotions that are within that grief as opposed to just wish it all away so we can go back to being distracted by lesser things from life’s most important questions.

When a nation grieves this way, there are three things that we should lean into:

1) Grief is a Good Thing

Psalm 34:18 The Lord is near the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

Too many times when tragedy happens, we resist the embrace of the grieving process.  Christians especially can have a guilt-complex with grief, thinking that they should be above that emotion if they truly trusted in God.  This couldn’t be further from the truth prescribed in the Scriptures, for God created us with emotion, in his own image, which includes grief.  Even Jesus grieved when his friend died, and the Father grieves over the brokenness of this world.

What I realized Sunday is that I could get so distracted reading the latest things about Kobe from others, that I ironically didn’t allow myself to truly grieve the thing I was reading about.  Embracing grief means allowing ourselves to taste the bitterness of emotional pain, knowing that true comfort from the Lord doesn’t come outside of grief, but in the midst of it.  Grief is a good thing.

2) Focus on What Matters in Life

Ephesians 5:15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

A tragedy like this puts life into perspective.  I am sure we all had various things on our minds on Sunday before we heard the news, things we were thinking a lot about, maybe even getting anxious over.  Then the news hits, and those things shift to the background, and we remember how precious life is, how important those loved ones in our lives really are, and how we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff.

The apostle Paul speaks of wisdom as of “making the best use of the time”, meaning we should be intentional about the things we prioritize in life.  If we knew this was our last day to live, what would you do?  What would you care about?

Now with those things in mind, what is keeping you from doing those things even if this isn’t your last day?  How can we orient out lives towards what is most important and not dwell upon or waste countless hours on things that have little to no value?

For the Christian, and in the direct context of Ephesians 5, Paul encourages us to orient our lives towards things that glorify God and make disciples.  How is your life shaped by loving God and loving others?  This is where purpose lies, this is where impact happens.  Make the best use of your time.

3) Consider What it Means to Have Life That Cannot be Stripped by Death

John 10:10-11 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

The fallen nature of this world means that all people will at least die once.  It might happen in a helicopter crash or it might happen within a peaceful sleep at a ripe old age, but it is a sure reality for us all.  However, we’ve been created with souls that go far beyond this life and this world was never intended to be the end of the story.  We all die once, but we have been designed by a God who made a way for us to not die twice, and he did it ironically through the death of his one and only Son.

When Jesus took on flesh and lived the perfect life that no one could, and then died the death on the cross that we all deserved, he killed death itself.  Jesus conquered the death of the soul, and he did it so we may have life, and life to the full.  To have faith in Jesus does not mean we don’t suffer or experience grief in this world, but rather that we now don’t have to grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess 4:13).  In Christ, we have the promise of every spiritual blessing, including the one of eternal life.

Romans 8:38-39  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Final Word

Sunday, January 26th was a day the nation grieved together.  And may it be the kind of grief that allows us to long for the day when helicopters don’t crash and lives won’t end early.  Let us long for the day that Christ will be all in all, and may he use these tragic days to bring about life in Him, beauty from the ashes.