First Third Conversations

Moments beyond words

By Dr. Terri Martinson Elton, Director of the Center for First Third Ministry at Luther Seminary

Where were you when you heard the news on Friday? I was in California visiting my brother, sister-in-law and niece. The morning news had just ended and it was time to bring my niece to preschool. I sat with my high school daughter and we watched, and listened as the bad news poured in. After awhile we knew we had to turn it off. But turning it off didn't take away the hollow feeling or the deep sadness.

What does one say or do in the aftermath of such an event? How does one talk with children about this? How are faith communities to speak into this harsh reality? Good questions, and ones with hard answers.

Over the weekend, on TV and social media, I heard several offer their thoughts on gun control, sentiments for families in mourning, and advice on talking with children about the event. Even Saturday Night Live opened their show with a children's choir singing Silent Night. I'm not sure what your congregation did this past Sunday, or how this event will shape your advent/Christmas season, but such a tragedy does calls forth response. But what?

Sin in our world cuts deep. Innocent people are victims. Reality breaks our heart. Pain  is real. And into this hurt, a baby boy is born. God with us. Immanuel. This sin, this hurt, is the true reason Christ came to earth.

Many of us know the pain of living in a broken world. Perhaps our hurts are not as extreme as those of this violent act, but many will be without loved ones this Christmas. And the hurt is real. For some, it will be the first time; for others its been years. Maybe the loved one died as a young children, or maybe as an older adult. Perhaps it doesn't matter, as the hole in our lives is real, as is the pain.

Perhaps such tragedies leave us breathless because they cut two ways. We hurt for the families and friends of the victims, as we also hurt because such pain is real in our own lives.  Sure, we try to forget or ignore it. And many days we succeed. But when news reports like Friday cut into our day, our hurt resurfaces and we are left without words. At least I know that's what happened to me.

Friday brought me back to loosing my two year old brother days before Christmas. And it brought me back to trying to minister to the families of two high school girls killed in a car accident this very week decades ago. These events changed me, made me see Christmas different then much of the world around me. It made me long for joy for the world, but hard for me to sing it.

If you have moments beyond words this Christmas season, I invite you to let God come to you. And in your waiting and longing, I leave you with the words of a familiar Christmas song which, as I pray it, brings the hurt to the surface as the tears flow.

Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay. Close by me forever, and love me I pray. Bless all the dear children in your tender care, and fit us for heaven to live with you there.

- Terri

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Terri Elton is passionate about young people and their families, and loves the church. No really! She's our Associate Professor and teaches with an eye toward developing leaders and leading change.

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