This is What a Christian Does
Every Wednesday evening, I lead a bible study with a group of seniors in our church. It’s a pretty simple affair, usually. We read the passage(s) that I will be preaching on the upcoming Sunday, we talk about what it means, we close by reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and then we have coffee and goodies.
We always begin our studies with sharing and prayer. Usually, this means a long list of people in our immediate orbits who are sick or suffering or struggling. Last night, however, we made a point of praying for those affected by this week’s stabbing at Abbotsford Senior Secondary School in British Columbia. A young man walked into an ordinary school on and ordinary day and took life. A thirteen-year-old girl killed, a fourteen year old injured. Christ have mercy. Who can understand these things? We have few categories up to the task of coming to terms with the hows and the whys of such acts.
There are, alas, always senseless acts of violence we could be praying for, but this one hit a bit closer to home for me. I spent a short season of my life living in Abbotsford. We have dear friends who live in the area (one of them has a daughter who was friends with the victim). I’ve driven by this school and visited the church where the victim attended with her family. It all seems somehow closer when you can picture the places and faces, when violence isn’t just something that happens to people I’ve never heard of in places I’ve never been. It shouldn’t be different, I know. But it is.
Anyway, we prayed last night. We prayed for the “usual” things. We prayed for peace and comfort and strength for this family that is facing this most painful and incomprehensible of losses: the loss of a precious thirteen-year-old girl. Letisha Reimer. We prayed that God would bind their wounds and that followers of Jesus could somehow participate in wresting something redemptive out of this grave evil. These are the things we pray for when terrible things happen and we can’t understand and don’t know how to pray. Even though our lips were moving and sounds were coming out of our mouths, we were mostly just shuddering, Christ have mercy…
Then a quiet voice came from across the table. “And Lord Jesus, we pray for the family of the person who did this and for this person. We know that they are suffering, too…” She might have kept talking, I don’t know, but I stalled right there. My instinctive response, I’m not proud to admit, was “No, not now, not yet! Yes, I know that Jesus told us to love enemies and pray for those who persecute us, I know that Jesus prayed for those who were killing him as he hung on the cross, but maybe we could do that later… on our own time… or something.” It felt somehow like praying for this young man and his family represented another act of violence toward the family grieving the loss of a daughter, a sister, a niece, a granddaughter…
But then I tried to place myself in the shoes of the parents or guardians of Mr. Gabriel Brandon Klein, the young man who has been charged with this crime. I don’t know a thing about his situation. Maybe he had an unstable upbringing with a steady parade of adults through his young life, each setting a more terrible example than the one before. Maybe he was a ward of the state. Maybe he was surrounded by addictions and dysfunction from the time he was born. Maybe he was unwanted and had apathetic parents who left him to fend for himself. Maybe he had been the victim of violence and was trained from his earliest years to reproduce this in the world around him. Maybe those entrusted with his care could hardly be bothered to care.
Or, maybe he had a father and mother who loved him deeply, who did their very best to raise him well, and who have now been utterly shattered by this decision that he has made. Maybe his parents had agonized over the destructive and violent tendencies that they had noticed in him early on. Maybe they had sought counseling and tried medication and prayed for him endlessly and tried changing schools or moving to different towns or anything that might help steer his feet toward better paths. Maybe they had long worried that a day like this might come. Maybe they had spent the last five years terrified of every phone call or knock on the door, wondering, always, “Oh God, what has he done now?!” Maybe they had been standing, desperately, plaintively at the gate, frantically praying and hoping that their lost son would finally come home.
No matter what the story, there’s an excellent chance that right now there is someone out there who is hurting deeply because of the choices this young man made. Someone who is deeply ashamed, who will forever be linked with this violent act of madness, who will carry around a heavy burden for the rest of their lives. Someone who feels like a complete and abject failure. Someone who has become a pariah, forever guilty by association. Someone who will be hated and mistreated and ignored and slandered and misunderstood. Someone who once looked in the face of a baby boy and saw nothing but hope and promise and possibility and now sees only cruel and crushing defeat.
Christ have mercy.
I looked down the table at this dear woman who had the courage to pray like a Christian. I said a quick prayer of repentance for my own reluctance to do so. I thanked God for her gentle, unassuming, and utterly Christ-like witness.
Yes, I thought, this is how we must pray. Not because we want to or because it’s easy, or in any way comes naturally, but because this is what a Christian does.