I had just arrived at home with my six year old son, Benjamin, around 2:10 in the afternoon. Amber called me to make sure I was alright. She told me about what had happened at Westroads Mall. I turned the television on in disbelief.
Westroads Mall is a place where most of us who live in Omaha have been many times. It is generally a busy, fun place. Today it was only busy.
Jesus says life will not be perfect: "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows." (John 16:33) People get cancer. Babies are neglected. Children are hungry. Airplanes are hijacked and crashed into buildings. People go into shopping malls and shoot people. Sometimes the world doesn't make any sense at all.
I spoke with a newspaper reporter earlier who was wondering about the church's response to an event such as this. One of his first questions was: "What do you say to somebody who is grieving?" My reply was something like: "Not a whole lot because there is not a whole lot that can be said." Listening seems to be a more appropriate response. I spoke with a man a short time ago was was grieving. "I'm so sorry" were the first words that came out of my mouth. Most of the rest of the time I just listened to his story. Hopefully, somehow he experienced the love and care of God during our conversation.
The reporter also asked me if I change what I talk about on Sunday morning. I thought about it for a few moments and said, "No." A few months ago we planned to do a worship series where we look at Christmas through the eyes of various people. The eyes of a man, the eyes of a woman, the eyes of a child, and the eyes of a retailer. Ironically, this Sunday is the Sunday I will speak about Christmas through the eyes of a retailer. During this time of year, retailers are extremely busy and face extra stress. I was going to use our time on Sunday morning to encourage all of us to make priorities and seek balance in our lives to help us manage the busyness and stress we face in life. The message doesn't change. It only becomes more passionate and more urgent. Many of us spent a little extra time tucking in our children tonight. We spent extra time with our loved ones. We spent time thinking about what is really important in life. If we could turn back the clock ten hours and make this event disappear, we would do so without thinking twice. But it has happened and all we can do is react. I pray one of our reactions is by focusing our lives and giving our best time and energy to the things that matter most.
Jesus continues his little speech: "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
So we take heart. God is with us. He is grieving with us. He wants nothing more than to comfort us. He gives us the gift of each other so we can make it through times such as this. We will never have all the answers. But we get something even better--the presence of God.