By: Susan Naslund
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving. Colossians 4:2
Bad things happen. All the time. For a while now, I have subscribed to several crime mapping, police reporting, news gathering, and neighborhood alerting websites so that I don’t miss a single notification of a gruesome auto collision, a senseless act of violence, or a frightening home invasion in my community. I want up-to-the-minute details when a police siren wails or a helicopter circles overhead. When my cell phone chimes with a news story, I check to see if something bad has happened. My reactions to hearing the reports range from shock and sadness to concern and fear.
Yes, I realize how ridiculous this sounds. The bombardment of all of this news of horrifying events is probably damaging my psyche. I don’t doubt there is something really wrong with my need to know. So, lately I have asked myself to try to determine why it is that I can’t seem to look away from all the painful stories in the news.
I’m no psychoanalyst, but my guess is that by constantly reading about all the bad 'out there,' I am trying to numb myself in case one day the bad is right here. If digesting all of the details of devastating things that have happened to other people can somehow make it easier if something like that ever happens to me, then I want that drug. I think that by staying on guard, I will know how I will react, and know how to control that reaction, when tragedy strikes, because there is no doubt it eventually will.
I can tell you that even though I have been on high alert for some time now, I have been no more prepared when I have received a few of those calls everyone dreads: “Come now – it doesn’t look good,” “Hospice is here,” and, “There has been an accident.” All of the notifications and alerts I have been receiving did not brace me for the sting of hearing the awful and sudden news that affected my life after all. Each time, my reactions have ranged from shock and sadness to concern and fear.
Prayer is the only thing I have found that can prepare me for those difficult days. Not the “please, God, please, God, please God” kind of prayers we all say in the midst of a crisis. I am talking about the steadfast prayer that needs to be part of my everyday existence. The more I invite God to walk beside me and the more I recognize God’s abiding love within me, the calmer and more peaceful I am overall and the more able I am to respond to all things in positive ways. Focusing my thoughts on prayer, and filling my whole being with thanksgiving, affects who I am and how I live. Self-centeredness turns to a healthier other-centeredness. It is with thanksgiving for God’s constant presence that I face all things – whether they be joyful or sorrowful and whether they effect my nation, my neighbor, or me. I don’t want to be numb to that.
I am not quite ready to wean myself off all the news – it is important to be alert and informed. But, I am going to watch a little less and pray a little more. It is with thanksgiving that I know God is with me always. My reactions to bad news will still likely be the same as always. I can’t control them. But, I can be assured that in the days that follow the initial shock, I will seek a connection with God to help me create positive actions from my can’t-be-avoided reactions. Because, as Bishop Desmond Tutu says in The Book of Joy, “Nothing beautiful comes without some suffering.” A scary diagnosis, the death of a loved one, a crucifixion. Bad things happen. All the time.