Helping others after a tragedy

When a college student learned that a shooting had taken place on her previous campus, panic threatened. But a tangible sense of God’s inextinguishable love brought calmness and mental strength that empowered her to better support and encourage friends who had been at the site.

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My heart overflows with compassion for all those immediately affected by the recent mass shootings in the United States, and for our society in general, as we navigate this difficult time.

I’ve been reminded of what helped me find peace, love, and strength in the aftermath of a mass shooting some time ago involving people I knew.

After my freshman year of college, I transferred to another school. A few months later, I woke up one morning to hear that someone from that freshman class had shot six people on my previous campus, killing two of them. I knew both the shooter and one of the people who had died. I was overwhelmed with feelings of shock and sadness as well as worry for the safety of other friends who were also on campus. My heart went out to everyone there.

I tried calling my friends, but got no answer. There was no way to find out any more information at that time, and it was hard not to panic. But I did what I have always found helpful in times of great emotional need: I prayed.

A verse from Psalms in the Bible gives this assurance: “Wherever I am, though far away at the ends of the earth, I will cry to you for help. When my heart is faint and overwhelmed, lead me to the mighty, towering Rock of safety” (61:2, Living Bible). I wasn’t turning to prayer as a way to ignore what had happened. I prayed to God in order to address the fear in my thought, so that I could think more calmly and clearly about the situation. If I was consumed by fear, helplessness, or confusion, I couldn’t help others as effectively.

I have frequently found comfort in time of distress in the example and teachings of Christ Jesus. Even though his ministry was one of love, he was confronted with hatred so intense it led to his crucifixion. Nonetheless, he didn’t shy away from his message that we are all God’s beloved children, and that we need to love others as God loves us. Through his healing and saving works he showed that evil and hatred can never truly extinguish God’s goodness and love.

The Bible describes God as Love itself (see I John 4:8). Nothing can be bigger than infinite Love, which is reflected in all of God’s spiritual offspring. None of God’s children can truly be separated from the Divine, who is Life itself. And even in the face of the ugliest expressions of hatred or violence, we can let divine Love guide how we respond. Each of us has a choice about what we accept as the truth about God and His creation. We don’t have to accept that evil can be equal to God or more powerful, or that love is powerless in the face of hatred.

The discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, writes in her primary work, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “Evil is not power. It is a mockery of strength, which erelong betrays its weakness and falls, never to rise” (p. 192). And in another place in Science and Health she asserts, “Love must triumph over hate” (p. 43). Being receptive to this spiritual reality brings help and healing.

As I continued to pray with these ideas, I felt more calm and secure. Feeling God’s love more tangibly gave me the mental strength to move forward with equanimity, instead of reacting with fear and panic.

Over the next couple of days, I heard from each of my friends. I was grateful to learn that they were all right. I was also grateful for the calming and healing effect of my prayers: I felt better prepared to listen to my friends’ stories in a supportive way and to offer love and encouragement as they dealt with the aftermath of the tragic event.

It is comforting to me, even when confronted by acts of violence, to remember that God is Love, and that no one is left out of His limitless, supreme love. It forever embraces us all.

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