Debonnie Barnes


Debonnie Barnes


How Do I Respond to Tragedy?

by Grace Wagner

2 Corinthians 1:8-11

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

This bible verse struck me. For a long time, I have questioned the nature of tragedies and how to overcome them. I can tell you that my younger self especially needed this verse — a reminder that God will deliver and is ever-present amidst tragedy when we cannot rely solely on ourselves. In other words:




This past Sunday morning, I didn’t wake up with as much energy and motivation as most Sundays, but there was something significant to my morning that ended up heightening the magnitude of this message for me: there was a movement in my heart to wear my Grandma’s ring, something I only wear on occasion and something I’ve had since her passing last September. Since the topic of the message was asking “How Do I Respond to Tragedy?”, it was personal and purposeful for me to go into church, reflecting on an aspect of my life that still wrecks me a little bit when I think about it.

You can’t control what happens, you can only control your response.
— Pastor Jesse Norman

When life seems to be closing in from all sides in the middle of tragedies, we can either react or respond. Although the words seem similar, both have drastically different internal motivations and outward results.

React: An action taken based on emotion

Respond: An action taken based on decision

From experiencing both actions at one point or another, I’ve realized that reacting only results in lasting heartache and regret when we replace logic with impulse and immediate emotion. Responding, on the other hand, gives us an opportunity to see our tragedies in a whole new light, and recognize that life is too short to ruminate on past hurts. Remember the importance of living in the precious moments of the present.

Shock is the disorientation of the soul.
— Pastor Jesse Norman

Tragedies are quite complex, considering the amount of emotions and changes that happen all at once. We go through stages of shock, sorrow, struggle, surrender, and service. Sometimes there are days that we wish were dreams. Especially those days when we can’t control what happens and shock suddenly sets in. To be a bit vulnerable, I don’t think I’ve ever truly experienced shock quite like when my grandma passed away. Nothing can really prepare someone to see their relative diagnosed with cancer and then pass away right before their eyes, within just 10 days. That surreal feeling of being numb to what’s around you is terrifying, with your mind and body being unable to register what is happening at first. When that feeling is existent, it’s important to have people in your world.

When tragedy becomes more tangible, after shock, the sorrow rises to the surface. Grief is a healthy human emotion. It gives us the opportunity to pour out our feelings when reality hits in the midst of tragedies, and in the process of moving forward, but with grief, it is never healthy to be stuck and overwhelmed by it.

At this point, we are left with the residue of a tragedy, figuring out how to navigate our new reality. There is a word we turn to that disrupts what we believe about God’s character and our trust: Why. I would consider why to be a form of writer’s block in our life stories. We soon become blind to what is true about certain situations and about our lives as a whole. When one tragedy occurs that is out of our control, we start to view our entire lives as meaningless and devoid of purpose, instead of seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

Because we can’t see from beginning to end, we just believe it going to end.
— Pastor Jesse Norman

The ability to see that light and have hope comes from gaining new perspective. It takes the higher wisdom of others to pull us from wallowing in our grief. Hearing that new perspective will help us to surrender our sorrows and grief to the Lord, and to accept that there is more in store for us and the best is yet to come.


Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

After experiencing the freedom of surrender, we can come out of tragedies with a greater purpose on our hearts and a newfound perspective. Maybe for some people that means exploring new interests for job opportunities, carrying on a legacy of a loved one, or sharing your redemption and life story with others. No matter what the life of service means for you, it’s vital for us to know that our life stories are still being written.

It has been almost a year since my grandma’s passing and I can say that I wouldn’t have wanted that tragedy to have happened any differently. Instead of reacting, I responded by writing and reading a letter to my Grandma about her impact on me, as well as read it at her visitation. I learned from past losses of relatives to treasure every moment, so I did. As heartbreaking as it was to be there at her last moments, there was a beauty and light in it too.

To those of you who are in the midst of a tragedy, whether it be a loss of a family member, loss of a job, or other situations that are beyond your control, don’t let the grief and reality of it all swallow you whole. Because we aren’t made to carry the weight of tragedy alone and with having such a loving Father, let us put our utmost trust in Him. Let God hold us in the palm of His hand in the midst of our losses, battles, and tragedies, and place us back on solid ground. Let us come out of future tragedies with fresh eyes, new perspective, and trust beyond any writer’s block.

When life falls apart, it is not the end of the story, but the beginning of the new chapter.
— Pastor Jesse Norman