As the country still reels from a series of mass shootings from Annapolis to Jacksonville to Pittsburgh, the frequency of these events may have created an ancillary effect. Where Americans once put our hands over our mouth in horror, an increasing number merely pause to offer a brief tribute of sentiment as consolation.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families” and its alternatives form the predictable and traditional sounds that echo in wounded peoples’ ears or are seen on social media.
Do these phrases really comfort those burdened by such anguish? Do they move from their ears and eyes to their heart? Instead, the list of questions erupting from wounded souls may extend beyond the horizon:
“To whom are you praying?”
“What reply do you expect?”
In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, the hero didn’t offer thoughts and prayers, but rather action and care.
He first noticed and then approached the assaulted man. Only then could the wounds be bound and the injured man carried to safety. Once there, the Samaritan then ensured sustainable care.
When words fail us, it is understandable to land on a phrase that feels safe and appropriate to say, but to be effective at ministering to the wounds, we must go deeper. With social media and instant news, glibness and optics receive more shelf space than the heart. But care requires something of the caregiver. Instead of the now trite, “…thoughts and prayers,” let us indeed think and pray, but also speak and act with frankness and specificity.
Our thoughts and prayers are between God and ourselves. Our words and actions speak to others. Sentiment costs little and rarely comforts. Although costly, leadership always comforts.
Let us offer more than thoughts and prayers. Let us offer leadership towards a safer, stronger, and more caring country seeking to assure one another that those who suffer will not do so in isolation.
The most effective leaders are often those responding to that great need of assurance in the face of overwhelming loss. In those moments, our vocabulary changes from stock phrases to specificity.
Leadership in suffering can be as simple as saying, “I see you, and I see the magnitude of your pain and sorrow—and I will work to make sure you don’t endure this alone.” Those words emanate from the heart.
Displaying outrage is a collective pastime. Displaying our hearts requires a greater courage.
From shootings to mental illness to immigration to race, we should be a nation that binds the wounds, regardless of our differences. We should be a people who notice the suffering of those around us.
“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:36-37
This article originally appeared on The Stand. Peter Rosenberger is a thirty-year caregiver for his wife Gracie, who lives with severe physical disabilities. He is the author of Hope for the Caregiver and 7 Caregiver Landmines and How You Can Avoid Them. Peter’s radio show for family caregivers broadcast weekly on American Family Radio.