Out of the blue, Jo asked me about school shootings today. It wouldn't be overstating things to say that I was a little surprised that a) she was aware that such things happened or b) that she knew as much about the incidents over the years as she did. So much for all that hyper-vigilant sheltering, huh? :-)
The question itself was simple: "Mom, why do kids in schools shoot other kids?"
After I picked my jaw up off of the floor and made sure that Atticus and Logan were still happily killing off their respective green army men with decidedly imaginary artillery, I proceeded to follow the very careful questioning technique that I've learned is usually the best approach when sensitive things like this come up. Quite often when my children pop off with some completely random-yet-deep question like this, their real question--the one they don't even know they want to ask--is still crouched just below the surface, waiting to be let loose. The only way you will ever let those sneaky little fears and doubts and concerns see the light of day is if you gently poke and prod around the topic and see where the tender spots are.
I led Jo through an examination of the things she already knew. While names like ColumbineVirginia Tech aren't part of her vocabulary just yet, she has a firm grasp on the fact that sometimes, people get mad. And when they get mad, if the right (or wrong) conditions exist, that person just might march into a classroom and start shooting at whomever happens to be in the way of their raw anger.
Jo had never really pondered before the fact that some children have access to guns in their own homes. Or the fact that children can actually be mentally ill (through our family's ministry efforts, she knows that adults can have mental health issues). Or that children can be brutally, ruthlessly, unfathomably cruel to other children.
She had assumed that these things happened with more purpose behind them than just feelings that had been stomped on repeatedly. I think somewhere in her mind, she had equated a school shooting with the actions of terrorists who accomplish the same end while seeking to draw attention to their cause.
To think that someone simply decided to kill another person was enough to bring her to tears.
Our conversation was framed by the fact that our family homeschools. Jo has never had to worry about being repeatedly ostracized, being in a physically threatening environment or being at the mercy of anyone whose intentions towards her are less than good. This is one of the blessings for which I praise God each and every day.
And this is where we found that deeper question, the one she had been harboring but wasn't able to put words to. Jo knows that there is sin and death and injustice in the world. She knows quite well that Daddy travels across the globe to help build churches and schools for children who lack clean drinking water while their leaders swim in built-in, chlorinated pools. She is painfully aware of the persecution our friends in Nepal suffer under, and the wretched conditions that they rescue orphans from on a weekly basis. She counts among her friends a family who runs an orphanage in Africa where nearly every child is HIV+. She has met adults who spent years of their lives unjustly imprisoned for nothing more than having confessed their beliefs.
Jo knows that the world isn't fair. She knows that there is pain. But there's one thing she can't quite get her mind around:
"With all the bad things already in the world, why do people just want to keep adding to it?"
It's a good question. A fair one. One for which I, alas, have absolutely no answer. But one I am glad that my ten year-old daughter is pondering. Because, despite my own inner flinching at the slow loss of her childish innocence, I am as always impressed that Jo can cut through the mess that we adults make of such troubling things. She sees straight to the heart of the issue. And, clearly, God can use that.