Every time a tragedy occurs, the first thing many people do is take to social media to share their “thoughts and prayers.”
Whether it’s the horrors of an active shooter, the devastation of a natural disaster, or a destructive incident involving racially motivated violence, people react on social media by posting their “thoughts and prayers” and encourage others to do the same.
In fact, the moral virtue of public figures is often judged on the basis of how short the time between the tragedy and their social media response. Celebrities and politicians are praised or criticized depending upon how long it takes them to post to Twitter when a nationally covered tragedy occurs.
May I be so bold as to suggest that this isn’t actually doing us any good?
It’s unclear why we do this. Maybe it’s because it makes us feel like we did something. Like we contributed to the conversation. Or maybe we pacified some vague sense of guilt or obligation. We let other people know that we’re a good person.
But at the end of the day, it doesn’t really help anyone. At most, it serves as self-soothing.
Followers of Jesus have the power to do so much more than this. They have the obligation to do so much more than this.
Here are 3 things you can do instead of sending social media “thoughts and prayers” the next time a tragedy occurs.
1. Actually pray.
There’s one lie that’s told in every church in North America more than any other. This lie is uttered at almost every church gathering, whether it’s a Sunday morning worship service, a bible study, small group, or informal gathering of followers of Jesus. Do you know what it is?
“I’ll pray for you.”
When we feel someone’s hurt, or when we feel uncomfortable and don’t know what to say, we will often simply say, “I’ll pray for you.” But we don’t actually mean it. We don’t intend on praying.
But “I’ll pray for you” is the right thing to say. It fills the uncomfortable silence with something that sounds spiritual. It’s an easy way to respond without anyone holding you accountable.
And we do the same thing on social media. We hear news of a tragedy, and we don’t really know what to say, so we offer up “thoughts and prayers.” But we don’t actually have meaningful thoughts about the situation, and we don’t actually pray.
Let’s reverse that trend. Let’s actually pray for people.
And the amazing thing is that we don’t even have to post about it. It’s okay that no one will ever know that you went to war for them in prayer. We should desire for God to have the glory and the credit instead of ourselves.
Your prayers are so meaningful. More meaningful than you know. Most followers of Jesus say that they believe in the power of prayer. And if that’s the case, then let’s prioritize it.
In the words of one pastor, “When you are on your knees, you are changing the world.”
2. Say something thoughtful and meaningful.
None of this is to say that it’s always wrong to post something on social media in response to a tragedy or national or regional disaster. It isn’t wrong to have something to say about these events, especially when those words are prompted by the Holy Spirit.
We have the power to bring a sense of healing with our words. In moments of crisis, sometimes God gives us special words of comfort.
But in order to be comforting and life-giving, our words need to be thoughtful. Our words need to be the result of actual thought and prayer. They need to be authentic and not just pithy or an attempt at sounding profound.
Our words should have weight. They should never be frivolous or offered without consideration.
When it comes to a shooting that results in the loss of life, these tragedies open up opportunities to have meaningful conversations about gun control, mental health, policing tactics, and racial tensions and inequalities. When it comes to a natural disaster, we are given the opportunity to listen to stories of loss and to offer words of support and comfort.
What isn’t helpful is to simply respond to a tense situation by simply affirming and reiterating whatever our political party’s talking points are, regardless of the facts. That’s just as unhelpful and unthinking as simply tweeting “thoughts and prayers.”
We should only say things that are meant for the good of others. And oftentimes that means having difficult conversations offline and in the context of relationship, rather than wielding our opinions on social media where words are misunderstood and fights are kindled.
And still other times, it means saying nothing at all.
Generally speaking, we should think before we speak. But it’s that much more true in times of tragedy.
3. Do something helpful.
This one’s hard, because we don’t often know what we can do to help. Talking is always easier than doing. It’s far easier to post our “thoughts and prayers” on social media than it is to do something that’s meaningfully helpful.
Oftentimes, doing something means that we need to do some research first. Which organizations are making a meaningful impact to help victims, to change broken structures, to create a better future? What do they need to further their mission? Is it funding? Volunteers? Awareness?
We need to be willing to employ the resources we have to bring about the change we long to see. We have to be willing to actually act and not only speak.
Doing something also requires creativity. Maybe the needs to be met aren’t being met by any organizations. Maybe there is something missing. Maybe you’re the one who is meant to start a new movement on behalf of the people of God.
That’s a lot of work. But it’s such meaningful and impactful work that values and dignifies humanity. Tragedy often serves as a breeding ground for new moves of faithfulness that have yet to be discovered.
And this isn’t to say that God manufactures tragedy so that he might “teach us a lesson” or anything like that. It’s just that he’s big enough to take even the most heinous moments and bring something beautiful out of them.
Don’t contribute to the noise.
We live in such a noisy culture. As soon as anything happens, it seems like everyone is a self-proclaimed expert, duty bound to explain to the rest of us what needs to be done. And since the internet gives every one of these “experts” a platform, the public space is noisier than ever.
And, yes, I know that as a guy with a blog, I am sometimes part of that noise. So maybe I’m speaking to myself even more than I’m speaking to you. It’s really easy to sit behind a keyboard and offer my “wisdom.”
But more than experts, what our communities need are friends and confidants. We need people who are willing to listen, who are able to speak empathetically and with kindness, who are ready to help in tangible and spiritual ways.
Rise above the noise. Every tragedy is an opportunity to show the love of Jesus. And the love of Jesus has no interest in virtue signaling or social posturing.
Sometimes it’s in the darkest moments that the goodness of God’s grace shines brightest. And it can shine through you.