How to Talk to Your Children When You Wake Up to Yet Another Tragedy

This morning we awoke to another jolt of bad news … another horrible mass shooting. Once again we feel shock. We don’t know what to think or do. Our breath, our life, feels sucked away. Fear creeps in … Do we know anyone who might have been there?

We Americans have become so accustomed to peace in our land and yet it has not always been so. Consumed with grief as he absorbed the constant daily news of death, including the anguish of caring for his badly wounded 19-year-old son, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow took to pen and paper to work out his anguish during our Civil War. His words, “And in despair I bowed my head: There is no peace on earth I said, for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Did you feel despair, too?

Years ago I found a story of another tragedy that shaped my faith as a mother of six who feared for my children as you do for yours. The story is about a Christian family of four, a mom and dad and two little girls.

It was the early 1900s in the country of Turkey. Life in their village was pleasant once again after the previous decade when many families suffered the unjust ethnic killing of many Armenian men and boys by the majority-ruling Turks.

Their two daughters, Elizabeth and her little sister Acabie, enjoyed a happy childhood playing with neighborhood friends, climbing trees in their backyard, and going to church regularly with their parents who loved them, taught them skills for life, and most importantly taught them the truth from the bible.

But in 1914, World War I began and life changed forever. Turkish soldiers began coming through the village demanding food and housing, forcing the Armenian men to join their ranks. Elizabeth’s mother and father toiled to meet the demands, comforted their neighbors and friends, and prayed constantly for the grace to endure.

When Elizabeth was eleven, her father was arrested, beaten, and left for dead.  Tomboy that she was, she followed the soldiers until she found her father, lying on the floor in a building the Turks were using as a prison.  On her knees with her face to his, she listened as he said his last words to her, “Never give up Christ no matter how much you must suffer.”  Then he prayed with her for her to be strong.

Months later after fleeing their village to what they hoped was a safer place, it was her mother’s turn to face death. Any Armenians married to Turks, belonging to Turks as servants, or those who would renounce Christ would be spared. It was another time of racial cleansing, one of the worst genocides in the 20th century.

Elizabeth’s mother said to her young daughters, “I cannot give up Christ. I know that He will watch over you both.” They sang together, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.”  The next day she was led away with thousands of other Christian Armenians to exile and death.

I was stunned by the words of this mother. Could I say that to my children? Would I point them to Jesus as their only hope in the midst of huge tragedy?

Gratefully, today our country is not at war, though it feels that way in places as we hear of increasing racial tensions, the sad news of lone shooters taking personal revenge, or terrorist murdering around the globe.

Still the question remains, What will you say when death strikes regardless of the motive or human toll? Will you have the courage to point your children to Jesus, as did this Armenian mother?

As we teach our children about the tragedy, death, and the forces of evil, here are two topics for conversation:

1. God did not promise an easy life. Jesus teaches clearly that, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). He also declared, “In this world you will have trouble.”

Teaching your children to trust in the Bible and in Jesus as the one who has defeated death on the cross and will come and make all things right is the most important conversation you must have with your children.

You do not know what tomorrow will bring. Death is not restricted to the hateful revenge of a lone shooter, but visits us in cancer, traffic accidents, and old age.

Ask God to guide you to meaningful conversations with your children today and this week. Nothing is more important than helping them grow a deep confident faith in Christ.

2. God will make all things right. The great hope for all of us who have chosen to follow Christ with our lives is the promise of eventual justice.  God said, “’Vengeance is mine, I will repay’ says the Lord,” (Romans 12:19).  We can know, as the Armenian family believed, that God will repay the evil suffered in this life because of our loyalty as Christians.

Read this promise to your children too. Revelation 21:4-5 says, “And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be an mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

In the end, we as moms need to remember that it is good for our children to see and experience suffering as God brings it.  God will not give them too much, nor will He abandon them.

In these difficult situations our children have the opportunity to develop compassion and empathy for others. When we, and our children, suffer loss we understand more fully when others experience loss.  And growing empathy is the antidote to selfishness, which is what God desires to diminish in our lives and our children’s lives.

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14 thoughts on “How to Talk to Your Children When You Wake Up to Yet Another Tragedy”

  1. Pingback: The Las Vegas Shootings: Asking the ‘Why?’ Questions - FamilyLife®

  2. Where can I read more about the family from the 1900’s that was referred to above?
    Thank you for this encouraging article!

  3. This post is helpful, but as a military family, I must disagree with one statement. The USA is (in fact) in at least 3 active wars right now, and it is very sad that the American people don’t understand this.

  4. I buried my middle daughter last year; she was 9 years old and died very suddenly due to medical malpractice. I know without a doubt that in heaven all things are made right. But on earth they are not; life is constant pain, heartache and sorrow for me and for so many people around the globe. Why God allows such suffering in this life, and how to want to live in such a sad life is still a mystery. All my hope in this life is gone; my only hope is for the next one in heaven. I’ve found little answers for how I am to live out the rest of my time on earth with any type of enjoyment. Maybe we are not meant to enjoy life, but just to bear it until it’s over?

    1. Shannon,

      Praying for you today, sister. That God would be your comfort and restore a new joy in your heart in His perfect timing. I’m so sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine the pain you are going through.
      May He be your strength and peace. *hugs

    2. My dear Shannon – my heart grieves for you. I know your pain well. I too belong to that ‘club’ that no one ever wants to belong to. Our eldest daughter Natasha died along with 6 of her friends and her teacher in a canyoning accident here in New Zealand 10 years ago next April. It was a tragedy that never should have happened as countless mistakes were made by the outdoor centre and those in leadership of our children. I cried, ranted and raved at God and could never imagine smiling ever again – I didn’t want to carry on living, not because I loved Natasha more than my other children but half my heart was now in heaven and the anguish of missing my beautiful 16 year old girl was just too painful. However, my heart and God’s love is far stronger than I thought and here I am doing life, and doing it well. The Holy Spirit revealed some deep truths to me and after some time I could look forward with hope, knowing that every day I was living life towards her. I didn’t just want to ‘do time’ I wanted to live the rest of my years purposefully. But now is the time to grieve and so grieve you must – be kind to yourself and allow yourself the space and the grace to mourn your beautiful precious girl. I hope my darling Natasha has found your daughter in heaven, and I am sending you much love and prayers. xxx

      1. My sweet friend Nikki,
        How kind of you to write Shannon. I read her comment this morning and intended to type a reply this evening or tomorrow but I could NEVER have offered the kind of perspective and hope you did in these words. I’m so grateful you shared Natasha’s story.

        Shannon, Nikki is my friend from New Zealand and she is a wise godly woman. Her words are gold and I pray they will give you hope and life.
        May you know and experience the reality of Immanuel, God WITH you, in this sad journey. He will never leave or forsake you…ever.

        with love,

  5. Your posts are always right on time! Thank you, Jesus, for giving Barbara the right words and the right time. Have to ask: what became of Elizabeth and Acabie?

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Jane! Both Elizabeth and her sister Acabie were taken to the US after the end of WWI. I think many other Armenians emigrated about the same time too. They both married. Elizabeth married an Armenian man and together they were in ministry for most of their lives. Those are all the details I know but I do know God was watching over those two little girls and it has been and still is a comfort to me for my own children and grandchildren.

  6. Wow I have had a very rough couple of weeks, It started with sick young ones, a grandmother passing away, and the next week experiencing a miscarriage that left me with four staples in my head and an overnight stay in the hospital. I looked around and saw my three laughing babies surrounding me and glad to see momma ok and it gave me an opportunity to thank God and to see his goodness in the midst of my time of loss. The bible says there is a season for everthing a time to be born and a time to die etc and also that we will have trouble. As I watched the news this morning in my hospital bed I came to accept that in the midst of our troubles and the turmoil we face in the world we can still see his goodness daily! He said be of good cheer I have overcome the world. When we carry the burdens of others during their time of loss we embrace grace and we in turn receive the same when we need it. I read this post and this is exactly the conversation I will be having with my babies in the upcoming days. Thank you and God bless

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