This week marks a year since the nearly incomprehensible school shootings in Newtown, Conn. Gaping holes in families, lives, and the greater community remain, as the question of why such a thing happened still lingers on everyone’s lips and in minds.
Looking back for answers sometimes only serves to deepen the wounds, rather than help heal them. The shooter demonstrated serious mental illness. He played violent video games, including one called “School Shooting.” He catalogued similar events as they emerged in the news. He holed up in his room, garbage bags on the windows, until his mother helped him buy the gun.
None of this offers us the peace we seek. What we want is an end to such terrible violence, and a relief from the lingering fear that haunts us while we know another incident is only a matter of time. As a parent of two school-age children, I was made painfully aware of the vulnerabilities in their schools as I’d drop them off, sending them, alone, into the building.
Nothing will make me feel safe. Nothing can assure me that they will come back to me each afternoon, unharmed. It’s the waking nightmare that comes, part and parcel, with being a parent. Yes, we should take precautions. Yes, we should be on the lookout for signs of trouble before they fester into violent outbursts. But there’s no guarantee. Such is the high and painful cost of love.
And therein, strangely enough, lies the hope, the good news. We tend to think of peace as the absence of conflict and violence, the end of all suffering. But if peace requires such impossible circumstances to exist, we’ll never realize it. Instead, we’re left to wrestle with the messy, complicated question: Is love worth it?
You will get hurt. You will lose people you love. You will let them down, and they will let you down. Love always comes at a price, but our call as Christians isn’t to assure the world that there is no hurt, no danger, in this love we proclaim. Our call is to pronounce, perhaps with our words but more important with our whole lives, that the cost is always worth it.
We can learn a great deal about how to contend with such tragedies from the late Nelson Mandela. “Difficulties break some men but make others,” he said. “No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end.”
Such is the gospel message of Christ. The world may bring its worst to heap upon you. It may endeavor to break your body and even your heart. But nothing human hands can do is capable of extinguishing the spark at the core of the human spirit. We choose to endure. We choose to love anyway. Just as Jesus did.
We hold our loved ones close, and then we let them go. We send up a prayer of thanks for the love they bring to our lives and we hope that this love will endure. And it will, beyond the time these bodies have left together here. Because such a love endures all.
No matter what.
Christian Piatt is a Sojourners featured writer and an author, editor, speaker, musician, and spoken word artist. He is director of church growth and development at First Christian Church in Portland, Ore. Christian is the creator and editor of Banned Questions About The Bible and Banned Questions About Jesus. His new memoir on faith, family and parenting is called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.