The tragic shootings in a shopping mall a few weeks ago in Omaha, Neb., reminded me of an incident I witnessed while I was shopping in a mall in Kansas City, Mo., last summer.
I heard a yell, "He has a gun! Get out!" My 5-year-old daughter and I were at the back of a store, near the entrance into the mall, and I didn't know where the gunman was or where he was headed. As I clutched my daughter's hand, I wondered, should we stay still, hide, or run toward the exit?
Although there was little time, I reached out to God, asking what we should do. I listened, and the answer came that we should leave immediately. In a flash I knew the route to take. As we neared the front door, we heard gunshots behind us coming down the main aisle. We were able to exit the store quickly and safely.
I learned later that the shooting had begun across town and culminated at the mall, where two people in the parking lot were shot. The shots we heard were fired by police, who intercepted the gunman as he headed in our direction. We'd chosen the best route to exit, staying safe and avoiding a two-hour lockdown.
I was grateful, but I felt sad that others, including the gunman, were killed. Did God blink at that moment? Is God's protection for a chosen few? Mary Baker Eddy wrote: "Does Deity interpose in behalf of one worshipper, and not help another who offers the same measure of prayer?... In divine Science, where prayers are mental, all may avail themselves of God as 'a very present help in trouble.' Love is impartial and universal in its adaptation and bestowals" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pp. 12-13).
That made sense. As a parent of two children, I wouldn't offer protection to one and not the other. Love doesn't have favorites. Like water filling an empty vessel, it floods in until all voids are filled.
But why were those shoppers harmed? I felt for their loved ones because of a significant loss that I'd experienced. When my daughter was in preschool, my husband passed away. I was devastated. The path that my family had been traveling was erased before my eyes. Decisions had to be made immediately about work, housing, and fulfilling financial obligations for my son's upcoming entry into college.
I'd learned to rely on God for physical healings and to solve other problems, but this felt like too tall an order for my faith. How could I get beyond this? I was comforted by biblical accounts of protection as well as encouragement from Science and Health. It was a thought-by-thought process that helped me navigate the path to healing. I leaned heavily on the assurance that my Father-Mother wouldn't abandon my family.
I made a point of looking at the situation for any evidence of God's goodness and protection. I was witnessing the divine influence at work in my life. I had to trust that God would guide each decision. Neighbors and friends helped with my daughter's care and household jobs. My supervisor allowed me to do work from home, and my son became the man of the family.
After several months, I was able to leave my work to spend more time with my daughter. Remembering that outpouring of good, I decided to look at the mall tragedy I'd witnessed through the same lens of acknowledging God's protective parenting at work.
God's qualities were expressed on that scene, too. Courage and compassion motivated the police to safeguard the shoppers. Wisdom impelled me to quickly remove my daughter from the scene. As I exited, I was able to alert a mother, busy with small children, that they needed to leave. Like that vessel being filled with water, God's love was filling voids. I could trust that the same shouldering Love that supported my family would also be there for the families of the victims of the mall incident.
Whether we need immediate help or guidance in making long-term decisions, God knows our need and constantly communicates with us when we commit to listen.