It’s hard to deny that facebook has changed the way we grieve as a community. Responses can be made instantly and with very little consideration or reflection. Those responses can then be “liked” or countered in real-time. They stick with us on our “timelines” and give us cause for reflections. Over time, superficial responses to horrific tragedy can change us as individuals and communities. It is for these reasons that Pastors and those of spiritual authority should post a measured response to tragedy as soon as they feel they have enough information, and then remain vigilant to what people are saying about the issue. People will need focus amongst a barrage of naked feelings. They need to know where God fits in.
I broke down our online grieving process into the clinical “five stages of grief.” I’m not a counseling practitioner, but I believe the stages hold some relevance when it comes to social media.
STAGE 1: Denial
There is a fine line between denial and mass chaos when news the magnitude of the Newtown shooting breaks. Information oozes from everywhere and is about 10% truth and 90% B.S. The main difference is that some people will take this time to hope for the best while others will assume the worst, some denying any good in the situation while others denying any bad.
STAGE 2: Anger
This is the stage that seems to dominate, characterized by a slew of politicized overreactions that can be heated enough to end facebook friendships. The problems are never as simple as meme’s we post make them out to be. Church leaders need to be a coming voice of reason during this stage. Here are some examples:
STAGE 3: Bargaining
When people realize that the situation involved is much more complicated than anyone, save God, knows, they will become more conciliatory and give ground on their beliefs in favor of understanding. At some point in the online discussion around the shooting, people started to give more credence to the issue of mental health. This issue went from “guns” to something we all realized was more complex.
STAGE 4: Depression
STAGE 5: Acceptance
When our souls are finally settled, we learn something about ourselves and where we stand in the world. Facebook and other social media outlets will have connected to an issue much bigger than us. I believe that God is working to shape us through these interactions. Some will take up a new cause as an activist, some will take extra care to cherish their children. Many will give their cares to God in prayer.