Dealing With Tragedy

Most of my posts on this site deal with leadership principles and practices. Such was the plan this week, until I received some tragic news early Sunday morning that has prevented me from thinking of anything else. So this week I will take a detour into the spiritual and practical realms of responding to tragedy. I am no expert in this field in terms of personal experience but I have spent more time than I wish I had to sitting with amazing people who have suffered inexplicable loss.

Sadly, there is another family and community feeling kicks to the gut this week, as Scott and Pam Mayo were suddenly taken from us as victims of a horrific automobile accident. I have met few finer people than the Mayos. They were a picture of what it means to be devoted parents, church leaders, community servants, husband and wife. In fact, they were out on a date night when their car was struck.

I had the privilege to be one of their pastors for 17 years. They were perhaps the most influential volunteer leaders on the church campus I pastored for my last several years in ministry. The Mayos were friends of our family, and they were friends of our friends. Still in their 50’s and in good health, they had decades in front of them to continue to build their legacy. No matter how it is sliced and no matter what perspective is taken, what happened simply does not seem right. It is a hard pill to swallow that after seeing this gracious couple nearly every week for years I will never see them again on this earth.

Whether you knew the Mayos or not, you have had and will have times when you receive some of life’s toughest blows. What will you do when those times come? Here is a starting point, no matter how incomplete and insufficient these suggestions may be. 

Ask Questions

Living in our fast paced world often keeps us from asking life’s most challenging and important questions. We ask about schedules and to do lists, weather and sports, but rarely dive deep into matters of the soul. Heart-wrenching grief forces us to face these difficult questions. And while the circumstances are horrible, the questions are good.

My encouragement is to lean into the pause grief has ushered in and be real before God.

Ask Why?

Many teach that we should not question God, but simply trust Him. I believe we can and should do both, and that one does not negate the other.

God should be trusted. The beautiful lyrics of an old song written in the context of death address the important question, Do I Trust You, Lord? much better I am able to express it. The song was written for a young widow after her husband and two of her children were tragically killed in a plane crash.

God should be questioned. Before we are able to fully trust him we must bring to him our deepest questions and believe He is big enough and loving enough to want to hear them. In times of tragedy that deep question is “why?” I’m not talking about the theological why (Why would a good God allow this?) or the practical why (Why did this happen?), but the emotional and personal why, often displayed in anger and frustration (Why did this happen to me?!). Each of these are good and important questions to ask at different times on the journey. To fail to ask them is to fail to engage God on the personal level He most desires and we most need.

Asking these honest questions will seldom produce satisfactory answers but they are often a critical step in moving toward emotional healing and to other questions that will help in moving forward.  

Ask How?

Moving from why? to how? is moving from the emotional ICU toward hope and healing. It doesn’t usually happen quickly, but some healthy and helpful questions to begin the journey are:

How can I find positive ways to cope? How can I allow myself to be vulnerable again? How can I use the experience of my pain to trust God and others more? How can I use my pain to eventually help others who are grieving? How can I let others into my life in new ways? How can I live with purpose? How can I honor the memory of someone who is gone?

Ask What?

Perhaps the most important questions to ask begin with what: What happens to people when they die? What can I know about the afterlife? What should be my top priorities with the brief lifetime I have been given? What type of person do I want to become? What do I do with God?

These are deep questions whose answers require more than a blog post. If I can help you process any of these questions please reach out to me at

A final suggestion is to listen here to the timely message preached this weekend at our church.