Do you remember the song that came out in the late nineties, “It’s all about you, Jesus”? My family and close friends had a running joke and sang the song with just one small change, “It’s all about ME, Jesus…” We joke about it in the little things, our performance on stage, our decisions in activities and service project. But have you ever stopped to consider the tendency that we use of our proximity to tragedy as an attention grabber?
The facebook status after the terrorist attack in Paris: “I was just there last week! That could have been me!”
After the earthquake, after the volcanic eruption, after the airplane crash, “This is my airport! I was just in that town! My second cousin has a friend who used to know someone there!”
It is true, psychology teaches us, that personalization makes anything more real and memorable. Hostage training teaches us to make ourselves more real to our captor by talking about our families, our interests, our goals. If we can connect or pull on the heart string of the captor, he is much less likely to cause us harm. Most people learn a concept and keep it in their memory better if it is experienced in a variety of ways: science uses lecture and lab practice in order to exemplify chemical reactions. And people in all corners of the world have difficulty embracing and becoming motivated about any issue to which they cannot personally relate: war, famine, poverty, deforestation, slaughtering of endangered species, whatever.
Personalization and awareness are good.
Inserting ourselves for the sake of getting attention is bad.
A man’s pride will bring him low,
But a humble spirit will obtain honor.
– Prov 29.23
“God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
– James 4.6
God honors and lifts up the humble servant. Self-insertion may not look like a pride issue at first, but consider the root: A tragedy occurs. Some people are truly broken at the event. Then others move in because they like drama, they like gossip or they like the buzz caused by such an event and want to get involved. Why? They enjoy the attention and need chaos to drown out the the world in which they live. They want to be a key player in the crisis and this is because their hearts are wicked and thrive on unwarranted attention. It’s all about them. There is often, also, a savior complex involved in which they think they can be the one, or a key player in fixing whatever happened.
It’s all about me, Jesus.
We are given clear instructions on how to interact with people in crisis:
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
– Rom 12.15-16
It is our role as the body of Christ to emotionally support and encourage our brothers and sisters. If someone in your church has suffered a tragedy, wrap them up in love and care. Pray with them, not just for them. Cry with them, not just for them. Laugh with them. Be there. Provide food. But never make it about you. Be humble and point to Jesus. Because while your presence and encouragement might comfort them for a while, it is only Jesus who can heal the heart. And if you create dependence upon yourself, you will only disappoint the one who is depending on you. But if you help the broken one turn to Jesus, then and only then they will be satisfied.
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.
– 1 Peter 5.6-7
If you are touched by tragedy, it is helpful to remember this basic rule of thumb when mourning with others. (This is a helpful tool, not Scripture.) There are always varying degrees of effect in a tragedy. If a man who is married and has a family dies in a car accident, the person most profoundly impacted by the loss is the wife. She is at level 1 proximity. Closest friends and family members – people with whom this man spent much time and energy – are level 2 proximity. Acquaintances and neighbors – people with whom this man was cordial – are level 3 proximity. Everyone grieves differently, and some people in level 3 might be impacted more than others, but in your mourning, you should never ever project onto or try to draw on someone in a lower level of proximity than you. A neighbor should never turn to the wife for comfort in processing the loss of this man. And, if you are in a higher proximity than another, you should be prepared to be there for those in the lower proximities: the wife should always be able to turn to the family friends and neighbors.
But everyone, in all proximities, always can and always should turn to Jesus.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
– Rom 8.28
God has a purpose and a plan in everything that happens, even in the husband dying in a car accident. And it is only in turning to God that He can comfort those who are suffering the loss and restore their hearts. But it is ultimately about the glory of God.
Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
– 1 Peter 4.11
So the next time a tragedy hits, let us not insert ourselves into the event for the sake of getting attention. Sure, we might have just flown through that airport or we might know someone from ages ago who lives there…but if we are not directly impacted by the tragedy, let pray for those who are, and let us serve those who are. Weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn, and focus on Jesus. We must point others to Jesus.