Psalms are a unique part of the Bible. As much as they are words from God to us, they are words God gives us to speak back to him. As such, they are especially useful to give words to experiences that feel unspeakable, experiences like the flood of emotions that come in the aftermath of a school shooting.

Below, you will find my personalization of Psalm 56 for the experience of a school shooting.

Instructions: Read Psalm 56 in your preferred translation. Then read this personalization. Do that one verse at a time. Use this as an example of how to pray the psalms; that is, to “play jazz” with the psalms as you use God’s Word to put your experience into words when you’re at a loss for words. If it is helpful, here is a PDF of Psalm 56 in the ESV and this personalization in a side-by-side, two column presentation: Psalm 56 Personalized.

To my soul: when I feel small, powerless, and far away from God’s presence. A poem of talking to God and my own soul in the aftermath of chaos breaking out at my school.

1 God, I need your grace and strength. I had no idea a fellow student could mangle my life this much.

All day, in my imagination; all night, in my dreams, the shooter haunts my mind. I want to escape the memories, but I can’t.

There are people – plural – who do these vile things. They trample lives, on random days, without warning or explanation.

I remember hearing his taunts and laughter between shots.

Each time I remember, I’m freshly afraid; my mind races, my pulse quickens, my pupils dilate.

When the threat is lodged in my memory, the only source of hope I have is you. No one else can touch the place where my fear resides. Please, touch the part of my mind that needs to be calmed.

I trust you God. Thank you for your word that says, “I believe, help me unbelief.” That is how I’m praying right now.

I trust you God. Just saying your name reminds me I am never as alone as I felt in those moments.

I have seen the worst that one person can do to another and yet here I remain with you. That gives me hope amid my fear.

Even now – days, weeks, months later – his actions disrupt my life.

There is no way he could believe he was doing something “good.” In that moment, he had to know his actions were evil and he did it anyway.

It is disturbing to realize these shooters plan, like hunters, tracking the school schedule like deer. He planned, he waited, and he acted with the intent to kill.

How do you begin to define “justice” for an action like this? What punishment can satisfy the impact of his crime?

God, I entrust this shooter to your wrath because there is no other way justice could be served.

God, you are big enough to serve eternal justice, but you are also personal and compassionate enough to notice my inability to sleep.

You know the number of my tears like you know the number of hairs on my head because every part of my life is precious to you.

You keep up with every aspect of life like a new parent charting the height, weight, first words, and first steps of their child in a baby book.

Because you care for me this personally, I know I can always call on you.

My enemy, Satan, wants to use the fear related to this event to convince me I am alone.

I know that is a lie. You are with me, for me, and patient as I struggle.

10 I need that comfort now, more than ever. Thank you that you are the Good Shepherd, who patiently walks with his sheep in places and times that feel like the valley of the shadow of death.

You are Yahweh, I am that I am, the God who never changes, the God who hears, the God who wipes tears.

11 I trust you. Because of who you are, I can learn to feel safe again.

I have seen the worst that one person can do to another and yet here I remain with you. That gives me hope amid my fear.

12 I covenanted with you, O God. You have kept your vow to me. You are with me. You are a refuge even now, in my fears. I want to keep my vow to you.

I want to say “thank you” even amid my fear.

13 It’s true. I could have died. While an experience like this tempts me to walk away and hide from everything I once found meaningful, you have kept me.

So much in this world is dark. Recent events have taught me how dark darkness can be. But you are a God of light. The only way I know to escape the darkness that feels so looming is to keep moving towards you.

* This resource is an excerpt from the pre-conference I will be leading for CCEF.

  • Dates: October 19 (Pre-Conference); October 20-22 (Conference)
  • Pre-Conference Topic: A Case Study in Responding to Traumatic Events in Your Church’s Community
  • More information and RSVP here