“We’re just private citizens who are now part of a club we never wanted to be in,” Bill Sherlach told reporters this week. His wife was the school psychologist at Sandy Hook Elementary School, one of six adults and 20 children killed on December 14.
Today the Senate begins formal debate on gun control, one day after two senators announced a breakthrough deal that would expand background checks for gun buyers. Sales made at gun shows and online would now be included, but exceptions for “temporary transfers” of weapons or private sales among friends and family members would be exempted.
As senators prepared for today’s debate, Sherlach and 10 other Newtown family members have been in Washington to talk with lawmakers. They are pushing for background checks to prevent criminals and the mentally ill from purchasing guns, and want a provision that limits the capacity of gun magazines. One of them appealed to legislators, “Help this be the beginning of turning tragedy into transformation for us all.”
My point this morning is not to discuss gun control (for an introduction to the debate, see my “Is Gun Control a Good Idea?“). Rather, it is to focus on the ability of those who experience tragedy to speak to others who suffer. When our oldest son was diagnosed with cancer last year, cancer survivors were able to encourage him and us as no one else could. When my father died while I was in college, friends who had lost their parents shared their pain and helped me deal with mine.
Paul Brand and Philip Yancey correctly called pain “the gift no one wants.” Dr. Brand, a medical missionary who treated lepers in India, used the physical insensitivity caused by Hansen’s disease as a metaphor for suffering in life. Leprosy bacteria attack the nerves, often resulting in infections or injuries which the patient does not feel or treat. His point: suffering is essential to life. Charles Spurgeon testified, “I never grew half so much as upon a bed of pain.” Mother Teresa agreed: “You’ll never know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.”
Henri Nouwen, one of my favorite theologians, spoke of “wounded healers.” One of the ways God “works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28) is by using us to help those who hurt as we have hurt. How has God redeemed pain in this way for you? Please share your stories of “wounded healing” in our comments section.
We are all the custodians of our sufferings. God never wastes a hurt as he redeems all he allows. Your tragedy can transform your culture, for changed people change the world.