Six words. That’s all. Six simple words, but each time I uttered them, my throat tightened and my eyes burned.
"Tierney and Andrew live in Newtown."
These six words brought me to tears many times that first week after a shooter massacred 26 people in an elementary school in Newtown, also killing his mother and, at the end, himself. Our daughter Tierney and her husband Andrew settled in Newtown after their wedding a year ago. Andrew grew up there. His family lives in town. His brother went to school with the gunman.
A few days after the shootings, I came across a familiar Bible verse. "For God so loved the world that he sent his only son . . . "
In the light of the shootings, the verse rankled me. I mean, seriously? God loves the whole world? Everyone? He loves a man who slaughtered 20 babies and the educators who tried to protect them? Jesus died for someone like that?
I don’t particularly like the answer, but the answer is yes.
My thoughts meandered back to a time when my first child was just days old. It was the middle of the night and I was talking to the baby in order to stay awake. Cradling my beloved infant, I whispered, "Skip, God loves you so much that he gave his only son..."
Then I choked on the words. His only son. God sent his only son. By the dim light of the street lamp outside, I could see the cherubic face of my only son, and for the first time, I grasped the magnitude of God’s sacrifice. How could anyone sacrifice his son, especially for people who would rail against God, and rebel, and deny his existence and wage war? How could he send his son to die for murderers?
But he did. That’s the kind of God we have. He’s a lot more compassionate than we are.
As I wrestled with these truths about evil and mercy and sacrifice, a priest friend posted on Facebook the names of the 26 people killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He wrote a simple prayer, asking God to have mercy on them. I replied to my friend that the list should include the shooter and his mother. After all, 28 people died, not 26. It’s hard to pray for the shooter and his mother, but since God loves them, the least I can do is to pray for them.
"I know, but I can’t," my friend replied honestly. "The shooter did something beyond imagining. No prayers for them."
"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," I wrote back.
Okay, my friend acknowledged, you’re right. We should pray for the shooter and his mother. But how? How can I wrap words around a prayer for a mass murderer?
I suggested a simple, "Have mercy on them, O Lord."
Again my friend was courageously honest. "But what if I don’t want God to have mercy on them? My prayer is hypocritical."
"No, it’s not," I assured him. "As a parent or a spouse, do I love my family only when I feel like it? Do I go to work only when I’m in the mood? Of course not. We must do the right thing regardless of how we feel. Sometimes the feelings follow. Sometimes they do not. But living the Gospel is not about feelings. Imagine if moms dragged themselves out of bed to feed their babies in the middle of the night only when they felt like it. The human race would be extinct. So no, it’s not hypocritical to pray for God’s mercy when you don’t feel like it. You’re being human. You’re also being a follower of Christ."
So we pray for the 20 little ones, and the staff members who died protecting them. We pray for the families whose lives have been devastated, and for those ministering to them who are hurting in their own way. And we pray for the shooter and his mother, that God will have mercy on their souls.
I don’t feel like praying for those last two, but I must. After all, I am a mom who never felt like getting up in the middle of the night to feed my babies. But I did it anyway because it was the right thing to do.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.