Around 12:50 pm on Thursday April 30, 2015, a car full of high school students was struck by a fast-moving vehicle as they attempted to pull into the West Hills High School parking lot across oncoming traffic. Two sustained serious injuries. A third was killed. Ryan Willweber was a 17-year old student athlete, and judging from the massive turnout at a candlelight vigil last night at the high school, he was well loved.
While my family does not know the Willwebers personally, this tragedy has impacted us mightily. Our daughter ran track with Ryan, so we watched him week after week as he competed with his comrades on the oval. And as parents of teens, it is impossible to avoid the what-if scenarios as we contemplate what Mr. and Mrs. Willweber must be experiencing. We’ve been hugging each other and our kids a lot in the last 24 hours.
It’s tempting to think that our responses to God in the midst of tragedy are only emotionally driven due to the intense circumstances. We hear those who are closest to the tragedy imploring us to tell our friends and family how much we love them and to cherish every moment with them as if it were our last.
We might agree in principle, but we often dismiss it as mere sentimentalism. It will pass, we think to ourselves, and everything will be back to normal again.
And all too often it does pass. How many times have you been moved by the life stories of a compelling speaker, by the call to abandon ourselves to God’s work, to turn our lives over to Him truly, once and for all? How many times have the struggles of our friends and family, or even ourselves, prompted us to sincerely commit to turning over a new leaf? And how many times, when the trials have passed, or the emotional high recedes, have we settled for life as it was before?
This is the turning point for me – it’s all going to be different from here on out, we say. But days or maybe weeks later, we find ourselves back where we were, taking the people in our lives for granted.
How quickly we move on from the spiritual awakening God began in our hearts.
We think people who are at one end or the other of the emotional spectrum, deep in a valley or high on a mountaintop, are not seeing the world clearly. That their vision is clouded by their circumstances. But the opposite can actually be true. You see, when God has met with us in our joy, or when pain and loss have taken away everything “normal” in our lives, we have the opportunity to see more clearly than ever before. Like Neo discovered in The Matrix, it’s the day-to-day world that is false. It’s life in the absence of either great joy or great sorrow, that is foggy, blurred by a lukewarm existence.
Do you really want the tragedy you have experienced, or the tragedy you have witnessed, to not be for nothing? Do you really want to honor the death and life of Ryan Willweber or someone else you have lost? Then remember. Remember the person, the life they lived, the passions they exuded. And remember the lessons you learned so clearly in the midst of the sorrow and pain, and never go back to the lukewarm, taking-it-all-for-granted approach you had before.
Let God redeem the tragedy, as He promises to do, by changing you. Not just temporarily. But changing you permanently. Then you can begin to change the world around you.