Like most Americans, I awoke March 11 to the news that Japan had been rocked and rolled by a disastrous earthquake and subsequent devastating tsunami. The loss of life and destruction of property will likely be calculated for days and even weeks to come.
Tragedy like that experienced in Japan is nothing new. The past few years have seen natural disasters all over the globe. It was Jesus who pointed out that rain does not discriminate; it falls on everyone.
The majority of us are far removed from the reality the people of Japan now face. For months to come -- perhaps even years -- their hearts, minds and schedules will be filled with grief, mourning, clean-up, rebuilding and readjustment.
So what is an appropriate response by those of us who stand on the outside looking in at those awash in tragedy? Do we simply feel pity? Be grateful that we were spared? Spout spiritual clichés in an effort to sound spiritual?
One place to begin is to cultivate empathy for those in tragic circumstances. In a world saturated by media and news that tends to accentuate the bad, it is easy to forget that the faces on the screen are real, flesh-and-blood human beings.
The people of Japan are not bit players in a disaster movie. They are individuals who share the same hopes and aspirations that all of us do. They are real and their lives have been shattered. We need to pause and imagine how we would feel if we were standing in their shoes, overwhelmed with devastation.
Another way to respond is to pray for those being smothered by tragedy. Really pray for them. Earnestly pray for them. This, if we are honest, is no easy task.
How do you pray for someone going through unspeakable difficulty? Who has the proper understanding and correct vocabulary? Actually none of us do, but that should not stop us from praying.
"In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should," wrote the Apostle Paul, "but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groaning."
The truth be known, we probably never know perfectly how to pray in any given situation. However, the Bible encourages us to shoot the arrow of prayer and the Holy Spirit will guide it to the bull's-eye of God's will. You can earnestly pray for someone, even when you do not know how to pray for them.
Of course, another avenue of response is to give financially when it is appropriate. In the case of those in Japan, there will be trusted relief agencies that will use your money to assist those who have been devastated. My preferred agency is the disaster relief ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention.
A more introspective response is to realize that life is uncertain. The tragedy you observe today could well be the difficulty you must deal with tomorrow. "You don't even know what tomorrow will bring -- what your life will be!" the Bible states in the Book of James.
When we understand the winds of change can become contrary, and can do so at any moment, there are some practical implications.
Since, as the Bible says, we don't know what life will be like five minutes from now, much less five years from now, we should live each day focused on what is truly important. As such, we should give our attention to priceless priorities.
Something is priceless when no amount of money can replace it. Something is priceless if your life would forever be altered if it were to be removed. A priceless item is something that nothing can replace. I submit to you that our families are priceless priorities.
As priceless priorities, our families deserve as much time as we can possibly devote to them. We also should take every opportunity, every day, to express love for our families. Along this same line, practice forgiveness. Don't harbor ill feelings toward anyone -- especially your loved ones.
If we do not know how the future will unfold, don't waste time being what Spiro T. Agnew called a "nattering nabob of negativism." Spend time counting your blessings, not contemplating your burdens.
"Teach us to number out days carefully," the Psalmist wrote, "that we may develop wisdom in our hearts."
There are people in Japan right now that know up close and personal that life can change for the worse and can do so quickly. We should live in such a way that we understand tragedy could slam into us without a moment's notice.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
c. 2011 Baptist Press. Used with permission.
Publication date: March 13, 2011