A nation in mourning

Column by Dan Hettinger

Posted 8/19/11

Grief comes anytime we lose something and lately our nation has had some big losses. The biggest was the 30 brave warriors who went down with their …

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A nation in mourning

Column by Dan Hettinger


Grief comes anytime we lose something and lately our nation has had some big losses.

The biggest was the 30 brave warriors who went down with their helicopter in Afghanistan. Loss of life and peace and property brings grief that is multiplied by the fact that an enemy intentionally and violently attacked us. Losing this group of Navy Seals all at the same time was especially painful. I do not know how my parent’s generation dealt with their grief when they lost over 10,000 sons, brothers, husbands and sweethearts on D-Day.

The dads and moms, siblings, relatives and home town folks hurt in the deepest way because a larger part of them was ripped away. But as a nation we grieve collectively, often not even knowing how to feel or what to say. A cloud of sorrow and anger affects the national mood.

A whole bunch of people lost a whole lot of money because of the stock market crash. It is about the bottom line but it is also about the futility of a lifetime of saving and investing being eroded by circumstance beyond our control. Control is a terrible thing to lose, especially if you believe the ones in control of the business or government are mistaken or corrupt.

A nation can go through grief just like a person or a family and often the same reactions occur. Some live in denial that there even is a problem and continue along their merry way. Others bargain with God, “If you get us out of this mess I’ll never do it again. I have learned my lesson.” Most of us go through stages of confusion, anger and blame.

National grief is not limited to the mentioned catastrophes. Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Phoenix shooting that killed six and left 14 injured including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the Gulf Oil Spill stir typical grief reactions. Talk radio hosts from both sides of the political spectrum blame the other side, especially the president. Anger inflames the blame to destructive levels. Perhaps the most common reaction is to go on with our responsibilities with uncertainty, insecurity and confusion of what to do next.

A danger with our American culture is to expect that “time will heal all wounds.” Then we busily distract ourselves with work to make money that we can spend on things we like and recreation that is fun. But our unresolved grief keeps us in an unhealthy level of existence.

At times of great national loss we need our leadership to be pastoral and to recognize the grief and sorrow and lead us through a grieving process. Pastors need to speak words of comfort and encouragement to their congregations and each of us needs to look for opportunities and a safe environment to talk about the condition of our souls.

The churches of our community have a special opportunity to minister to this need. Christians begin their doctrine with the belief of a broken and fallen human condition. Suffering, mistakes and dysfunction should come as no surprise. When we recognize our depraved condition and desperate feelings we are closest to finding comfort in a loving God who redeems us from the fall, forgiveness from the things we have done wrong and the challenge to forgive those who sinned against us — the only way to break the cycle of wrongs.

Most of all, churches have people who have the love and abilities to sit in the ash heap of life with a grieving soul and listen as we talk about what is bothering us. As we grieve together and care for those who are hurting we can heal as a nation. We are going to suffer loss and grief, but when we find comfort and healing with a transcendent faith our greatest losses turn into our greatest gains.

Dan Hettinger is founder of the Jakin Group, a ministry of encouragement and a chaplain with Hospice of Saint John. Contact him at everydaycourage@gmail.com.


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