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You Can Only Break the News of War so Gently

As we drive to school, the first streaks of pink and orange spill across the horizon. Cars change lanes beside me, and in this madly spinning world—everyone and everything moving—the expansive sky looks still. I turn the radio down and catch my 12-year-old daughter’s eyes in the rearview mirror.

We’re on the way to her middle school, and she’s sitting in the back seat, blissfully unaware of the fresh grief unfurling in the Holy Land on this October morning. It occurs to me that there are only a few letters separating ignorance from innocence. Wanting both to last a little longer, I let the space between my words stretch out. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

I am in a brutal bind. Tell her too little, and she’ll be caught off guard when—not if—she hears of the Israel-Hamas war from some source other than me. Tell her too much, and I needlessly rush her toward the end of childhood.

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I fumble forward, words spilling out of my mouth despite my reticence. I tell her about the attacks in Israel this month and the rumors swirling as Israeli troops prepare their response. But I don’t tell her about the grandmother whose murder was livestreamed or that babies were reportedly burnt and beheaded. I don’t tell her that Hamas uses civilian Palestinians as human shields or that, because the Palestinian population skews young, hundreds of children have already died in Israel’s response, and that more will die even if Israel does its best to abide by the laws of war.

I’m telling her this news, I explain, because I want her to be careful—aware of what might be coming next when someone casually hands over their phone and says, Hey, look at this. I am taking a little of her innocence in hopes of preserving most of it.

Now that she’s in middle school and immersed in a world where everyone has the world in their pockets, I’ve learned our family’s personal boundaries about technology are all but irrelevant. We don’t allow social media on her cell phone, but she could see a murder over someone’s shoulder in health class. We limit her contacts, but we can’t keep her from overhearing, in the school cafeteria, the screams of a woman halfway around the world.

What is the right thing to do here? No one has a motherhood playbook for this kind of psychological terror. Even five years ago, my child was much less likely to encounter such depravity in a passing period at school. As an Israeli psychologist poignantly noted, “The videos and testimonies we are currently exposed to are bigger and crueler than our souls can contain.”

After I speak, my daughter looks out the window. I want to know what she’s thinking. I want to turn the car around and go home. I want to pretend all is well. Yet I know I cannot stop the world’s wild spinning or time’s fast pace. She is growing up, a God-crafted creation “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14)—or, at least, that’s what I tell myself in my more grounded moments, finding confidence in the story of Esther. But right now, I mostly just feel a sinking dread: Ready or not, here the world comes.

Author Wendell Berry wrote a poem for his granddaughters after visiting a Holocaust museum. It opens with the sad resignation of watching childhood crack wide open, spilling innocence like blood, in the lives of his beloved:

Now you know the worst

we humans have to know

about ourselves, and I am sorry,

for I know you will be afraid.

The simplicity of these words—the totality of the ache they contain—reverberates in my heart. I hear them echoed, too, in the plea of a Palestinian mother, told to flee but with nowhere to go: “What did my children do to deserve this?” I hear them in the soul-sick voice of an Israeli mother whose 12-year-old autistic daughter was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists: “I’m helpless but not hopeless.” I am sorry, we all must say to our children, that this is the fallen world you must know.

My sadness, I realize, isn’t the same as that of Israeli and Palestinian mothers—or of mothers in Myanmar or Ukraine or Afghanistan or Ecuador. The pang of ordinary sadness I feel watching my daughter—and her younger sister—grow more aware of the world’s jagged edges is balanced by my awareness that each day’s growth is an exquisite gift many parents never get to experience.

“I don’t feel comfortable talking about such a mundane breaking-apart in a world where real wreckage lies scattered everywhere,” as author Mary Laura Philpott so poignantly said. “I carry this sadness around quietly, so as not to take up too much air with it, to leave space for the far more significant sadnesses of others.” That seems right, given humans’ limited attention spans and capacity for mourning. But I also trust God has no such limits, and he will wipe away the tears of ordinary sadness as much as those of great griefs (Rev. 21:4).

In the car with my daughter, I set my eyes on the road ahead. How do we go forward? This much I know: I cannot keep my daughters from this beautiful, terrible world. But I can seek to prepare them for it, teaching them that in a world at war, Jesus calls his people to something different—to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9).

The sky is crimson now. The world is aflame, and we are told to be peacemakers, turning cheeks and giving cloaks and breaking bread and laying down our lives (Matt. 5:38–48). I almost laugh at the absurd impossibility of it.

But it shouldn’t feel absurd to followers of Jesus. If it does, perhaps that is because our culture has replaced a scriptural vision of peace with shallow symbolism and culture war fodder, with hippies and peace signs and word-salad secular pacifism which can’t account for the depths of evil in our world. That cultural framework makes it too easy to dismiss peacemaking as impractical, naive, outdated—or worse.

But peacemaking is what Jesus commanded. The truth is I have no control over global affairs, but I can work toward peace in my own heart and peace in my home. I can start in this smaller sphere, from the innermost parts of my being to my children, family, and church. As parents, peacemaking must start this way, in our very hearts and homes.

This doesn’t just matter on a theoretical level; higher levels of parental anxiety have been found to correlate with higher levels of child anxiety, whereas a non-anxious presence changes the atmosphere around us. Like an infusion of oxygen in a suffocating space, it gives others the capacity and inner resources to cultivate peace as well.

We must pay attention to where we allot our attention. We must develop the lost art of discernment, asking God to help us filter through the endless noise of fear-stoking pundits in this much-afraid world. We must be guided by the Spirit to be wise like serpents and harmless like doves (Matt. 10:16), compromising neither our humanity nor our values. In any polarized situation, we must work to complicate our narrative, actively seeking out voices and perspectives that challenge our assumptions. When we hear of people celebrating the deaths of innocents, we must refuse to join that bitter cycle and listen instead to those who speak with love even in their heartbreak.

In our homes, we must foster honest but prudent conversations about what is happening in our world. We must help our children understand how deeply all creation groans for redemption (Rom. 8:18–22) without tipping into terror. We must pray together for Jesus to be near to every victim regardless of their nationality, to comfort those who mourn, to help us to love our enemies, and to make our own hearts light as we learn to trust ever more in him.

We must preach to ourselves and our children the promise of the Resurrection, rooting ourselves deeply in the promise that no matter what may come, in the end, “all sad things become untrue.”

“You do not have to walk in darkness,” Berry ends his poem:

If you have the courage for love,

you may walk in light. It will be

the light of those who have suffered

for peace. It will be

your light.

I texted my daughter later that day, knowing she might see my message between classes. “One way to fight evil in the world is to stand strong and resist their attempts to control or manipulate you into being afraid,” I urged her. “Protect your eyes. Protect your heart. Hate no one, and be unafraid.”

A few minutes later my phone dinged with a reply. “I am OK and not afraid.”

May it always be, dear daughter. May it always be.

Carrie McKean is a West Texas-based writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Texas Monthly Magazine.




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