This morning I had to do something I hate—again. I had to tell my 15-year-old daughter Lucy, who survived a school shooting almost four months ago, about another act of school violence. By now you likely know that a sophomore at a Pittsburgh-area school stabbed 20 of his classmates before he was stopped and captured. If you missed it, you can read about it here. As I write, many of those kids from Franklin Regional High School are in surgery, with doctors racing the clock to save their lives.
My wife and I now have a new filter that we use to process traumatic events around the world: If it happens at a school, or is an act of mass violence by a single perpetrator, we want to be the first to let our daughter know about it, before she hears about it from some other source. We want to be the first, because “the medium is the message”— the way she hears about traumatic “trigger” events matters (in the end) more than the news about the event itself. I think we’re hoping to model how Jesus moves into our dark places. He doesn’t wipe away our reality; instead, He invades our reality with His forceful, tender, and redemptive presence.
He doesn’t take away the ugly; He treats our ugly like clay and re-molds it into something beautiful. But beauty that’s created out of ugly still has the stink of ugly, because that’s its raw material.
This morning my daughter has a look of pain on her face, and she alternates between telling my wife and I that she doesn’t want to talk about what happened in Pittsburgh with a steady stream of questions about what happened in Pittsburgh. She doesn’t want the ugly to have free access to her soul, but she wants the freedom to touch the ugly on her own terms. And it’s vital that she learns, early on, to live in the spirit of “The Stockdale Paradox.”
Jim Stockdale was an officer and prisoner-of-war in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War. He was imprisoned for eight years, from 1965 to 1973 and was relentlessly and ruthlessly tortured. But he survived the experience, and the way that he survived has now been studied and taught around the world as The Stockdale Paradox: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” Jesus operates, all of the time, in the tension described by The Stockdale Paradox—He will move us to face the “most brutal facts of our current reality, whatever they might be.” But He does this in a momentum and a context of certainty that we will “prevail in the end.”
Our “dark habit” of attempting to be the first to talk with Lucy about new acts of school violence is our messy determination to communicate that bad things happen, and we have to face them, but even more, that hope prevails because Jesus prevails.
Rick / @RickSkip
P.S. It’s a good time to remember the vital basics of entering into students’ dark places with life-giving counsel. I love what GROUP Magazine columnist and longtime youth pastor Jeanne Mayo says in this short piece called “The Ultimate Counseling Advice.”