A year ago, tragedy struck River Valley High School when a 16-year-old boy carried a weapon and allegedly took the life of another boy in that community.
As someone close to a number of students in the school, I was likewise shocked to hear the news.
I had plenty of conversations with people on the ground and particularly with those who needed support.
In the midst of all the pain and information that I was privy to hearing, I wanted to understand how God’s redemptive hand was nevertheless at work.
One year on, I have seen how, in the Lord’s mercy, this incident has opened up opportunities for people to be real and authentic.
We live in a society where “face” and reputation matter more than authenticity.
Students wrestle with this in school where, though not necessarily the fault of the institution itself, they learn from culture and experience that their value and self-worth are dependent on their performance.
They feel like they have to conform to a set of behavioural and academic expectations if they are to be recognised and validated.
Perhaps this may also be the same environment that they face at home, in which case there is no safe space for them to be themselves.
Even if students neither face this at home nor in school, they may impose the same set of expectations upon themselves, bypassing their own emotions and cognitive dissonance to bring forth an idealised version of themselves — one that they think society would approve of.
In the process, they deprive themselves of agency and individuality.
Then the unthinkable happened: One of our own, an otherwise functional member of society, for reasons known only to himself, acted in such a way that was utterly contrary to the expected norm.
And because of that, many of us have been forced to confront the darkness of our own internal world and ask ourselves the question: How far would we go to regain a sense of personal agency?
Bringing the darkness inside into the open
As prompted by this incident, many of us have come to reckon with the fact that there are issues in our lives that we can no longer sweep under the carpet or pretend to ignore, lest they likewise manifest in such an ultimate and destructive way.
God has been drawing out the darkness that exists within us so that we can see it for ourselves — and so that He can truly and deeply heal us.
I am also reminded by a conversation that Jesus had with his disciples the night before He went to the Cross (Luke 22:36-38).
He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.
It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That’s enough!” he replied.
The disciples must have been in a dilemma.
Why would the Lord instruct them to buy a sword (and surely two were not enough for 11 men) when the Lord would not even permit them to use it?
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)
The fact of the matter is that the disciples were jostling for power and position. Just moments ago, they were even arguing about wanting to be the greatest in the Lord’s kingdom (Luke 22:24).
Perhaps they imagined Jesus as a political Messiah who would use military force to drive out the Romans so that Israel would finally become an independent state.
The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” (Luke 22:38)
And yet this was not what the Lord had come to do.
Perhaps their attempts at already carrying two swords even before the Lord had asked them to do so betrayed an aspect of their political ambition and the very means that they had in mind to bring it to pass.
Even if their only intent was self-preservation in response to their own fears of arrest, this too went against what Jesus had intended.
While there are different interpretations of what Jesus was trying to tell them about the sword, the outcome of the conversation is the same: The Lord had drawn out the things concealed in their own hearts that were antithetical to His ways.
Journeying towards healing
I am heartened to hear reports that in the aftermath, many students from the school came forward for counselling.
From what I understand, most of them did not do so because they were directly affected as friends of the parties involved.
Rather, they admitted that the incident itself brought their own struggles to the surface — struggles with identity, self-worth and relationship with parents, among others.
Whereas once talking about these things especially with an adult may have been seen as a reproach, a blight on their character and their endeavour to “keep it all together”, now there seems to be a general willingness to be authentic and be truly heard, so that they can be truly healed.
I hope that with this internal release happening early on through the conversations that needed to happen, the build-up of pain over time would be averted, saving many from a destructive climax (whatever that might have looked like) years down the road.
Moreover, we may see the culture of shame, which traditionally has been used to enforce people’s conformity to expected behaviour, instead be replaced by a culture of authenticity, where young people are given the space and the room to grow.
To those who may be looking for permission to bring forth the darkness that you’ve been hiding or struggling with in solitude, may you find a safe space where you can meet with a non-judgmental brother or sister with whom you can be yourself.
And to the fathers and mothers who are not fazed by the mess and baggage that young people may carry and bring to you in their distress, may the Lord use you to provide a safe space for them to come as they are — and to leave having become more than that.
*The author has chosen to use a pseudonym for confidentiality.
- What are some things you’ve been hiding away in your heart or struggling with alone?
- How are these in conflict with God’s ways?
- Is there someone you can seek out to open up to?