If there’s any truth in this adage, “when it rains, it pours,” then it certainly feels like we’re in a monsoon.
The number of disasters I’ve seen in just the past few months doesn’t feel real.
In December, historic tornadoes rampaged through my old Kentucky home. In January, Omicron overwhelmed hospital systems as it swept throughout the U.S. Then, Brazil suffered from flooding and mudslides in February.
And now, the world grieves violent attacks on Ukraine.
You don’t need me to tell you that disasters are no joke. Whether natural or human in cause, disasters are difficult to predict and even harder to recover from.
Disasters affect entire communities, sometimes communities as big as entire countries or continents. On top of losing homes and familiar routines, survivors can also suffer from disaster trauma – a specific type of complex collective trauma.
Disaster trauma is complex because it often involves multiple overlapping layers of traumatic events: the disaster itself, an untimely death of a loved one, a real or perceived threat to one’s life, and the unexpected loss of a home or livelihood.
Disaster trauma is collective because the distress and subsequent repercussions are felt within the entire community that experienced the disaster.
So where do we go from here? How do we heal from the massive destruction caused by disaster trauma?
It is in these moments without words that I most often turn to the Psalms. “Give ear to my words, O Lord; give heed to my sighing. Listen to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you I pray. O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning, I plead my case to you, and watch (Ps. 5:1-3, NRSV).
“Watch” always feels like a weighty word. And perhaps the best one in the face of disaster as it carefully balances two realities.
On one hand, it’s a helpless word. The psalmist realizes that their situation is rough, and that only an Almighty God can actually deliver them from the oppression.
To “watch” almost feels like a confession that the psalmist cannot do anything except wait and cry within their distress, “How long, oh Lord, how long?” (Ps. 6:3).
On the other hand, there’s a remarkable amount of confidence and peace. The remainder of the psalm describes what the psalmist expects to see when they watch.
Even though the psalmist’s current reality of suffering has yet to change, it seems that God has given the psalmist a new vision, one in which God shows them a way forward toward refuge, joy and blessing.
As our congregations continue to wake up every day to news of the disasters happening across the world, we must find ourselves watching like the psalmist.
Fervent prayer and seeking God on behalf of the suffering is a Christian mandate we should not take lightly. If there is ever a time to “approach the throne of grace with boldness” (Heb. 4:16), it is in the face of disaster.
But let us also not be so naïve as to be caught in a sense of helplessness either. Disasters cause massive damage because disasters are massive. But disasters are not the only thing capable of large action.
People joining together in their congregations and communities can bring some hope to victims of disasters. Houses of faith joining together in their larger fellowships have even more power to support suffering communities.
And when individuals, congregations, denominations, secular service organizations and government agencies unite, then their combined power brings a massive opportunity for healing from disasters.
We do not yet know how or when the fighting in Ukraine will end. We do not have the answers for how Ukraine, Europe or the world will heal from this crisis. We only know that God has invited us to pray and to do whatever else we can to make a positive impact.
Watch your thoughts and feelings whenever Ukraine comes up. Allow yourself to feel the gravity of the situation and the full spectrum of emotions you may be experiencing: anger, sadness, helplessness, fear, ambivalence or apathy.
While accounting for your emotions, consider practicing an Examen prayer, during which the Holy Spirit may use your emotions to speak to you in an unexpected way.
Watch the news so that you can keep up with what is happening in Ukraine and how the world is responding. Keep watch for when God gives you a vision of opportunity to support those who are oppressed.
Perhaps, God will call you to give financially to humanitarian agencies, advocate for peace or welcome refugees into your home. Perhaps, God will call you to partner with other organizations to respond in an entirely new way.
Finally, don’t forget that God is still at work in the world.
My church recently sang Cory Asbury’s song “The Father’s House” during worship. As I heard the congregation singing, I was overwhelmed by one particular line, “The story isn’t over, if the story isn’t good.”
Disaster trauma does not get the final say because God keeps God’s promise to remain close to the broken-hearted (Ps. 34:18).
Just as God remains close to you and invites you to pray and act as you can, God remains with suffering Ukrainians and invites them to participate in the healing of our world, too.
By some miracle of God’s grace, the Holy Spirit unites us to give and receive from each other through the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ.
Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series focused on engaging the emerging generations of faith leaders. If you know anyone who might be interested, encourage them to submit an article for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org.