Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Cope When Tragedy Strikes?
“Why did the terrorists have to kill my mom?”—Kevin. *
“[Before September 11], I used to love tunnels. Now I imagine dying in a tunnel because of its being blown up.”—Peter.
KEVIN’S mother was killed in the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. Peter did not suffer a similar terrible loss, but he was still greatly affected by the events.
One news report says: “Thousands of children living in New York are struggling with mental problems related to [the attacks on] September 11 that in many cases will last into adulthood.” Alarmingly, signs of emotional trauma were “just as prevalent in children who were nowhere near ground zero as in those who had witnessed the attacks first hand.” *
The same might be said regarding other tragedies, such as suicide bombings in Israel and random shootings elsewhere. Regarding such shootings one expert on the effects of trauma said: “Even if [the children] live 2,000 miles away, these events can still increase [their] anxiety.”
The reason? When disastrous events take place, young ones are exposed to a flood of graphic media coverage. Frightening images of terrorist bombings, school shootings, and natural disasters are repeated over and over again, making it difficult for many youths to erase the pictures from their minds. Little wonder that a survey conducted for the New York City Board of Education revealed: “Six months after the World Trade Center collapse, 76 percent of 8,266 public school students still thought frequently about the terrorist attacks.”
Why Bad Things Happen
One way of dealing with emotions that seem to overwhelm you is to arouse your “clear thinking faculties.” (2 Peter 3:1) Try to look at things from a rational, godly point of view. For example, you may need to remind yourself that many tragedies are simply the result of “time and unforeseen occurrence.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11) Jesus Christ gave an example of this when he spoke of the collapse of a tower in Siloam. Eighteen people were killed in that local disaster. However, Jesus made it clear that the victims were not being punished by God. They died simply because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. (Luke 13:1-5) Meditating on this fact may help you to put disasters in perspective.
Clear thinking can also prevent you from becoming “enraged against Jehovah himself” and blaming him for the sad events. (Proverbs 19:3) Far from causing our misery, Jehovah is “the God of all comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3) When tragedies occur, we need to draw close to him—not pull away in anger. Meditate on the Bible’s words at James 1:13: “When under trial, let no one say: ‘I am being tried by God.’ For with evil things God cannot be tried nor does he himself try anyone.” *
A tragic event that occurred centuries ago in the Middle East may serve to illustrate this point. The Bible tells us that the sole survivor of that catastrophe reported: “The very fire of God fell from the heavens and went blazing among the sheep and the attendants and eating them up.” (Job 1:16) What a horrible calamity! And this terrified man obviously thought that God was responsible for it. Yet, God was not. Job 1:7-12 reveals that the fire was sent, not by God, but by God’s Adversary—Satan the Devil!
That was a unique situation: Jehovah had given Satan special permission to test Job’s integrity. So don’t conclude that Satan is directly responsible for natural disasters such as storms and floods. * Even so, the Bible does say that “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) Hence, he can use human agents to wreak havoc and destruction.
Still, we do not need to feel helpless. Consider another incident, recorded in the Bible at 1 Samuel 22:12-23. There we learn of the vicious massacre of a group of faithful priests and their families. No doubt Satan had some role in spurring wicked King Saul on to commit this brutal act. However, faithful David, who later became king himself, wrote Psalm 52, in which he expressed confidence that God would annihilate the wicked men responsible for the calamity.—Psalm 52:5.
Similarly today, you can be sure that God will not forever tolerate Devil-inspired acts of murder and violence. Why, the Bible promises that God will soon use his Son, Jesus, to “break up the works of the Devil”! (1 John 3:8) Eventually, there will be no traces left of the damage Satan has done. By means of a resurrection, God can even restore to life individuals who have died in tragic acts of violence or terrorism.—Acts 24:15.
Practical Ways to Cope
This Bible-based hope can help you to avoid being overwhelmed by fear. But there are also some practical steps you can take. For example, note the Bible principle at Proverbs 12:25. Only by sharing your feelings with others can you receive the “good word” of encouragement. Doing so will also help you to realize that you are not going through your ordeal alone. So if you are feeling distressed, try opening up to your parents or to a mature member of the Christian congregation. *
Another suggestion: Don’t overdose on graphic media coverage of tragic events. Doing so only makes it harder to erase troubling images from your mind.—Psalm 119:37.
Are you a Christian? Then stick with your routine of Christian activities. (Philippians 3:16) Such activities include attending meetings with fellow Christians and sharing your faith with others. (Hebrews 10:23-25) That will help to keep you from dwelling on negative thoughts. Isolating yourself would only damage you—emotionally and spiritually.—Proverbs 18:1.
Continuing to read the Bible daily can be particularly helpful in any stressful situation. The mother of a youth named Loraine was dying of cancer. Note how Loraine coped with this tragic situation: “I remember reading the book of Job several times during the ordeal. The book of Psalms also provided me with much comfort. As I read the comforting words from the Scriptures, I felt as if Jehovah were embracing me.” Her sister Mishael likewise recalls: “If there was a day I skipped reading the Bible, I felt it. My mind would automatically go back to thinking negative thoughts. Reading the Bible gave me the spiritual nourishment I needed to get through each day.”
If you have suffered loss—especially the death of a loved one—reading the brochure When Someone You Love Dies * can be very comforting. Take the time to read and meditate on all the cited scriptures. Meditate, too, on the hope of the resurrection. “I would literally envision my mother coming back in the resurrection,” says Loraine. “I would imagine hearing her say: ‘I’m back. Now what did you cook for dinner?’ That would make me smile.”
Leaning on Jehovah in prayer can also give you the strength that you need to endure the worst of tragedies. Loraine recalls: “I was in the room when my mother took her last breath. I immediately asked Jehovah to give me the strength to endure and to get through this. I immediately felt the peace of God.” Be specific in your prayers to Jehovah. Let him know exactly how you feel. “Before him pour out your heart,” urges the psalmist.—Psalm 62:8.
As time passes, distress on earth will likely increase. (2 Timothy 3:13) Still, the Bible promises: “Evildoers themselves will be cut off . . . But the meek ones themselves will possess the earth, and they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.” (Psalm 37:9-11, 29) Clinging to this hope will help you to cope successfully when tragedies occur.
^ par. 3 Some of the names have been changed.
^ par. 6 According to mental-health experts, such symptoms might include emotional numbness, nightmares, isolation, cessation of normal activities, and feelings of guilt and anger.
^ par. 9 Although this article is specifically dealing with large-scale tragedies, the counsel can also be applied to personal tragedies, such as the loss of a loved one.
^ par. 12 For a discussion of why God permits wickedness, see chapter 7 of the book Worship the Only True God, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
^ par. 14 See “Questions From Readers” in The Watchtower of December 1, 1974.
^ par. 18 In cases of extreme emotional distress or depression, medical attention will likely be necessary.
^ par. 22 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
[Picture on page 14]
It may be wise to limit your exposure to distressing media images