It’s 8:20 a.m. on March 20, 2018. I’m sitting in my math class, anxiously refreshing Google, waiting for anyone to confirm what my classmates and I suspect is going on downstairs. News confirmations won’t start coming out for about another 10 minutes. We heard the sirens and knew something was wrong, but still none of us wanted to believe our worst nightmare. None of us wanted to believe a school shooting would happen to our school.
In my panic, I texted my youth pastor:
Please pray for our school I don’t know barely anything about what’s going on I’m in my class upstairs by the stairs and there was a loud sound and someone yelled gun and I could hear everyone screaming and running and now we’re on lockdown.
On March 20th, 2018 my high school, Great Mills High School, became the next school to be placed on every growing list of school shooting locations. A 17-year-old brought his dad’s gun to school and killed Jaelynn Willey, whom he had a previous relationship with. Another student was injured in the crossfire and the shooter advanced down the hallway, only to take his own life when confronted by a school resource officer.
It’s March 24, 2018. I’m marching down the streets of Manhattan with one of my best friends and a “Hornet Strong” sign raised above my head and tears pricking behind my eyes. I feel filled with a hope I hadn’t had since before the morning of March 20. I am surrounded by other teenagers carrying signs with slogans like “Kids over Guns,” “We Call BS,” and what seems to be the rallying cry of the gun reform movement: “No More Thoughts and Prayers.”
At first glance, this statement might receive flack in Christian circles. As Christians, we’re taught that praying is meaningful, and that God answers our prayers. While it may seem like us rabble-rousing teenagers are trying to wage war on prayer, that’s not where our passionate slogan is coming from.
Why do we elect politicians? We want the leaders who make laws and rule over our lives to make decisions that reflect their constituents. We want them to vote yes on propositions that would protect us and no on propositions that would harm us. We don’t elect politicians to pray for us. For me, that’s where the resentment towards politicians saying “sending thoughts and prayers” in the wake of a gun violence comes from.
I believe in the power of prayer. It’s nice to know people are praying over the issues facing our nation. But when I see lawmakers “sending prayers” more than they are doing their jobs, I start to get frustrated. The epidemic of gun violence in our country is a uniquely American problem that can be stemmed with the help of lawmakers, but it never will be if they pray more than they work.
Another common response to school shootings from Christians is that they wouldn’t happen if we just put God back into teenagers’ lives. The 17-year-old who walked into my school with a gun was someone I knew from church. I didn’t see him that much, but I knew who he was. I remember the first time I met him at youth group. We split up into circles for small group discussions and he sat across from me. He wore camouflage, and I remember stereotyping him in my head as a gun-loving hunter. I didn’t stereotype him out of spite, it was just where my mind went. I was told he got baptized in our church and while I don’t remember seeing the that, there is a chance I was there that day.
Every time I hear someone say school shootings would end if we just put God back into our schools, I want to jump in and tell them my story. I want to ask them how it was possible for the shooting at my school to happen if the shooter did have God in his life. But those people can’t explain how Church shootings happen if God is the preventative answer to violence, so I don’t think they would be able to answer my question — even if I wish they could, for no other reason than the fact that I struggle with it myself.
I don’t know why a loving and gracious God allowed the shooting at my school to happen. But I know God was there in the aftermath. God was there when two girls from Parkland gave me bone-crushing hugs at a town hall I spoke at three days after the shooting. God was there when the comfort dogs happened to be back at Great Mills the day of the Santa Fe shooting, the first deadly school shooting since ours and my hardest day since March. I may not understand everything, but I find peace in knowing I don’t have to. Proverbs 3:5 says: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”