Tragedy, pain, and the beauty of love (the evening 500 teens showed up at church to pray)

Rebekah welcoming teens to the vigil as hundreds continue to pour in

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.” – Revelation 21

Life comes at you hard and fast sometimes. As of Saturday afternoon, I had this morning’s post pretty much figured out, featuring stories plus some amazing photography from the day-long meeting of Presbytery in downtown Raleigh. Then Saturday evening happened and everything changed…

When Life Stops Cold and Has to Start Over:

In short, our church family lost a beautiful, vibrant member when 15-year-old Hannah Viall was killed in a tragic car accident.

1-wake forest presbyterian church - Facebook Search - Google Chrome 2252018 112316 PMBut it is the response of this community that I want to highlight in this post, and in that response such a true and compelling story about life, and meaning, and hope, and the deep hunger we all carry around in us.

Rebekah threw out her prepared sermon for Sunday, and – in the early hours of the morning – wrote a penetrating message based on the first few verses of Revelation 21: “And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’” (Click HERE for the LiveFeed – the sermon starts around 19:00)

It was a powerful morning of worship and prayer and the kind of tears that come from a poignant mixture of grief and love and hope.

They Just Kept Coming…

But it was Sunday evening that took me by surprise. We arranged for a prayer vigil in the sanctuary, to give teens an opportunity to address the immediacy and the gut-wrenching pain of their grief. What I didn’t anticipate was how many of them would show up. They came because the knew they needed to be together, to pray together, to cry together, and to acknowledge this brittle interface between mortality and eternity.

They came because they were hungry.

I have long pushed back against the tired old criticisms of “today’s youth.” The same refrain seems to be sung by every aging generation, and it is always cynical and unfounded. Sunday evening proved my point. These kids may be young, they may be struggling with so much, they may not always have their heads screwed on straight…. but their hearts are most certainly screwed on right.

These kids show up for one another. They love with passion and they love without holding back. They are authentic witnesses to the imperative to live out loud, and to live with real meaning.

By the time we started, the teens filled every chair, they sat on the floor in the front, then they sat on the floor in the aisles, they lined every wall of the sanctuary, they sat on the steps, they sat in the lobby, they stood in the lobby. They came. They came. They came.

God’s Spirit came, too – and it was holy.

There were songs, there were prayers, there was a short meditation, and one of our WFPC teens, Jordan Snow, offered a raw, honest, angry prayer that came directly out of her grief and pain, and it resonated with the entire crowd. Her prayer made some of the leaders nervous at first, but – eventually – it came back to pleading, “God we just need you,” – we need to know you are with us, we need to rest in your love.

And that is where we were, and for a long time after the official benediction, we stayed, and we rested in the love of God and the knowledge that God is here for us – especially through the presence of others in community.


1-IMG_4465-001Hungry: not just the hundreds of teens that flooded our campus last night; we are all hungry for God. That yearning for meaning, the questions, and the “Why?” – They are only there because there really is meaning, and there is nourishment, and there is purpose.

We only hurt this much because we are equipped to love this much. Such tragedy is so hard to bear, yet the fact of it – the fact and the experience of the pain – proves why we must continue to drink Living Water, and share the Bread of Life, and live in intentional community, and whey we must love our families with a fierce passion.

The alternative is unthinkable.

In love, and because of love – DEREK



8 thoughts on “Tragedy, pain, and the beauty of love (the evening 500 teens showed up at church to pray)

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