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How Can I Cope When Tragedy Strikes?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Why did the terrorists have to kill my mom?"—Kevin.*

"[Before September 11], I used to love tunnels. Now I imagine dying in a tunnel because of its being blown up."—Peter.


Related topics:

* Does God Really Care About Us?
* Mankind's Problems Soon to End!



KEVIN'S mother was killed in the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. Peter did not suffer a similar terrible loss, but he was still greatly affected by the events.

One news report says: "Thousands of children living in New York are struggling with mental problems related to [the attacks on] September 11 that in many cases will last into adulthood." Alarmingly, signs of emotional trauma were "just as prevalent in children who were nowhere near ground zero as in those who had witnessed the attacks first hand."#

The same might be said regarding other tragedies, such as suicide bombings in Israel and random shootings elsewhere. Regarding such shootings one expert on the effects of trauma said: "Even if [the children] live 2,000 miles away, these events can still increase [their] anxiety."

The reason? When disastrous events take place, young ones are exposed to a flood of graphic media coverage. Frightening images of terrorist bombings, school shootings, and natural disasters are repeated over and over again, making it difficult for many youths to erase the pictures from their minds. Little wonder that a survey conducted for the New York City Board of Education revealed: "Six months after the World Trade Center collapse, 76 percent of 8,266 public school students still thought frequently about the terrorist attacks."

We live in what the Bible calls "terrible times." (2 Timothy 3:1-5, New International Version) How can you cope when terrifying tragedies occur?%

Why Bad Things Happen


One way of dealing with emotions that seem to overwhelm you is to arouse your "clear thinking faculties." (2 Peter 3:1) Try to look at things from a rational, godly point of view. For example, you may need to remind yourself that many tragedies are simply the result of "time and unforeseen occurrence." (Ecclesiastes 9:11) Jesus Christ gave an example of this when he spoke of the collapse of a tower in Siloam. Eighteen people were killed in that local disaster. However, Jesus made it clear that the victims were not being punished by God. They died simply because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. (Luke 13:1-5) Meditating on this fact may help you to put disasters in perspective.

Clear thinking can also prevent you from becoming "enraged against Jehovah himself" and blaming him for the sad events. (Proverbs 19:3) Far from causing our misery, Jehovah is "the God of all comfort." (2 Corinthians 1:3) When tragedies occur, we need to draw close to him—not pull away in anger. Meditate on the Bible's words at James 1:13: "When under trial, let no one say: 'I am being tried by God.' For with evil things God cannot be tried nor does he himself try anyone."^

A tragic event that occurred centuries ago in the Middle East may serve to illustrate this point. The Bible tells us that the sole survivor of that catastrophe reported: "The very fire of God fell from the heavens and went blazing among the sheep and the attendants and eating them up." (Job 1:16) What a horrible calamity! And this terrified man obviously thought that God was responsible for it. Yet, God was not. Job 1:7-12 reveals that the fire was sent, not by God, but by God's Adversary—Satan the Devil!

That was a unique situation: Jehovah had given Satan special permission to test Job's integrity. So don't conclude that Satan is directly responsible for natural disasters such as storms and floods.** Even so, the Bible does say that "the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one." (1 John 5:19) Hence, he can use human agents to wreak havoc and destruction.

Still, we do not need to feel helpless. Consider another incident, recorded in the Bible at 1 Samuel 22:12-23. There we learn of the vicious massacre of a group of faithful priests and their families. No doubt Satan had some role in spurring wicked King Saul on to commit this brutal act. However, faithful David, who later became king himself, wrote Psalm 52, in which he expressed confidence that God would annihilate the wicked men responsible for the calamity.—Psalm 52:5.

Similarly today, you can be sure that God will not forever tolerate Devil-inspired acts of murder and violence. Why, the Bible promises that God will soon use his Son, Jesus, to "break up the works of the Devil"! (1 John 3:8) Eventually, there will be no traces left of the damage Satan has done. By means of a resurrection, God can even restore to life individuals who have died in tragic acts of violence or terrorism.—Acts 24:15.

Practical Ways to Cope


This Bible-based hope can help you to avoid being overwhelmed by fear. But there are also some practical steps you can take. For example, note the Bible principle at Proverbs 12:25. Only by sharing your feelings with others can you receive the "good word" of encouragement. Doing so will also help you to realize that you are not going through your ordeal alone. So if you are feeling distressed, try opening up to your parents or to a mature member of the Christian congregation.##

Another suggestion: Don't overdose on graphic media coverage of tragic events. Doing so only makes it harder to erase troubling images from your mind.—Psalm 119:37.

Are you a Christian? Then stick with your routine of Christian activities. (Philippians 3:16) Such activities include attending meetings with fellow Christians and sharing your faith with others. (Hebrews 10:23-25) That will help to keep you from dwelling on negative thoughts. Isolating yourself would only damage you—emotionally and spiritually.—Proverbs 18:1.

Continuing to read the Bible daily can be particularly helpful in any stressful situation. The mother of a youth named Loraine was dying of cancer. Note how Loraine coped with this tragic situation: "I remember reading the book of Job several times during the ordeal. The book of Psalms also provided me with much comfort. As I read the comforting words from the Scriptures, I felt as if Jehovah were embracing me." Her sister Mishael likewise recalls: "If there was a day I skipped reading the Bible, I felt it. My mind would automatically go back to thinking negative thoughts. Reading the Bible gave me the spiritual nourishment I needed to get through each day."

If you have suffered loss—especially the death of a loved one—reading the brochure When Someone You Love Dies%% can be very comforting. Take the time to read and meditate on all the cited scriptures. Meditate, too, on the hope of the resurrection. "I would literally envision my mother coming back in the resurrection," says Loraine. "I would imagine hearing her say: 'I'm back. Now what did you cook for dinner?' That would make me smile."

Leaning on Jehovah in prayer can also give you the strength that you need to endure the worst of tragedies. Loraine recalls: "I was in the room when my mother took her last breath. I immediately asked Jehovah to give me the strength to endure and to get through this. I immediately felt the peace of God." Be specific in your prayers to Jehovah. Let him know exactly how you feel. "Before him pour out your heart," urges the psalmist.—Psalm 62:8.

As time passes, distress on earth will likely increase. (2 Timothy 3:13) Still, the Bible promises: "Evildoers themselves will be cut off . . . But the meek ones themselves will possess the earth, and they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace." (Psalm 37:9-11, 29) Clinging to this hope will help you to cope successfully when tragedies occur.

How Can I Deal With Sexual Harassment?

"Boys make wolf whistles and catcalls."—Carla, Ireland.

"Girls call on the telephone again and again. They try to wear you down."—Jason, United States.

"He kept touching my arm and trying to hold my hand."—Yukiko, Japan.

"Girls make suggestive comments to me."—Alexande.

"One boy kept shouting things at me from the school bus. He didn't really want to go out with me. He was just harassing me."—Rosilyn, United States.

A FLIRTATIOUS stare, a "compliment" with sexual overtones, an obscene joke, an overtly sexual touch—such treatment, when unwelcome and repeated, often amounts to what can be called sexual harassment. Although global statistics are hard to come by, surveys indicate that most school-age youths in the United States have experienced it.

Just what is sexual harassment? The book Coping With Sexual Harassment and Gender Bias, by Dr. Victoria Shaw, defines it as "bothering someone in a sexual way . . . It can be physical (such as touching someone in a sexual way), verbal (such as making unwelcome comments about someone's appearance), or nonverbal." Sometimes the harassment involves crude propositions.

Much of the harassment in school probably comes from your peers. However, in some cases the offending behavior has come from adults, such as teachers. An article in Redbook magazine speculates that the relatively small number of teachers who are actually convicted for sexual offenses "probably represents only the tip of the iceberg."

Women—and sometimes men—were subject to such mistreatment even back in Bible times. (Genesis 39:7; Ruth 2:8, 9, 15) And the Bible made this grim prediction: "There will be difficult times in the last days. People will be selfish, greedy, boastful, and conceited; they will be insulting . . . ; they will be unkind, merciless, slanderers, violent, and fierce." (2 Timothy 3:1-3, Today's English Version) So it is possible, even likely, that you will encounter sexual harassment yourself.
God's View

Admittedly, not all youths are distressed by sexually aggressive behavior. Some may find it amusing—or even flattering. One disturbing U.S. survey showed that among victims of sexual harassment, 75 percent admitted that they themselves had harassed others. Some adults may aggravate the problem by downplaying the seriousness of sexually aggressive behavior, brushing it off as just childish experimentation. But how does God view it?

God's Word, the Bible, clearly condemns all forms of sexual harassment. We are told not to "encroach upon the rights" of others by violating sexual boundaries. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8) In fact, young men are specifically commanded to treat "younger women as sisters with all chasteness." (1 Timothy 5:1, 2) Furthermore, the Bible condemns "obscene jesting." (Ephesians 5:3, 4) Therefore, you have a right to feel angry, upset, confused, and even demeaned when you are harassed!
What Do I Say?


Sharing religious beliefs Letting your Christian beliefs become common knowledge can be a protection

How, then, should you react if someone bothers you in this way? Sometimes a weak or vague response only makes a harasser try harder. The Bible tells us that when Joseph was propositioned by his employer's wife, he did not simply ignore her. Instead, he firmly rejected her immoral advances. (Genesis 39:8, 9, 12) Today, being firm and direct is still the best way to fend off harassment.

True, the one bothering you might not mean to offend you. What looks like harassment may actually be an unpolished attempt to attract your attention. So do not feel that you have to resort to uncouth behavior yourself to halt an unwanted advance. Simply saying something like, 'I don't like that kind of talk' or, 'Keep your hands to yourself, please' may get your point across. However you word it, do not water down your message. Let your no mean no! Young Andrea puts it this way: "If they don't catch on to your kind hints, you have to tell them straight out. It often comes to that." A firm 'Cut it out!' may do the job.

If the situation escalates, do not try to handle things alone. Try talking it over with your parents or other mature adults. They may have some practical suggestions for dealing with the situation. As a last resort, they may even feel it necessary to alert school officials. As uncomfortable as doing so might make you, it could protect you from further victimization.
Preventing Harassment

Of course, it's best to avoid being victimized in the first place. What might help in this regard? Andrea advises: "Never give the impression that maybe you are kind of interested. Others will hear about it, and the pressure will continue." The way you dress can play a major role. Young Mara says: "I don't dress like a grandmother, but I do avoid clothes that attract attention to my body." Rejecting sexual advances while at the same time wearing provocative clothes may be sending a mixed message. The Bible recommends dressing "with modesty and soundness of mind."—1 Timothy 2:9.

Two groups of young people By not associating with the wrong crowd, you may prevent harassment


Your choice of friends also affects how you are treated. (Proverbs 13:20) Rosilyn observes: "When some of the girls in a group like the attention from guys, the guys may assume that all the girls in the group feel the same way." Carla made the same point: "If you hang around with ones who give in to the remarks or who enjoy the attention, then you will get harassed too."

The Bible tells of a young girl named Dinah who associated with girls from Canaan—where women were known for their loose behavior. This led to her being sexually assaulted. (Genesis 34:1, 2) With good reason the Bible states: "Keep strict watch that how you walk is not as unwise but as wise persons." (Ephesians 5:15) Yes, being "strict" about how you dress, how you speak, and with whom you associate can do much to protect you from harassment.

For Christian youths, however, one of the most effective ways of fending off harassment is simply to let others know of your religious stand. Young Timon, one of Jehovah's Witnesses, recalls: "The kids knew that I was a Witness, so that stopped almost all the harassment." Andrea observes: "Telling them you are a Witness makes a big difference. They will realize that in many ways you are different from them and that you have strict moral standards."—Matthew 5:15, 16.
If You Are Harassed

Try as you may, you cannot entirely escape rude, abusive people. But if you are the victim of a harasser, there is no reason for you to pummel yourself with guilt—as long as you have behaved like a Christian. (1 Peter 3:16, 17) If the situation distresses you emotionally, find support by talking to your parents or to mature ones in the Christian congregation. Rosilyn admits that it's hard to feel good about yourself when you are being harassed. "Just having companionship," she says, "someone you can talk to, is very good." Remember, too, that "Jehovah is near to all those calling upon him."—Psalm 145:18, 19.

Taking a stand against mistreatment is not easy, but it is worth it. Consider, for example, the Bible account of a young woman from Shunem. Although she was not really harassed as the term is commonly understood today, she did receive unwanted advances from Solomon, the rich and powerful king of Judah. Because she was in love with another man, she resisted those advances. She could therefore say of herself with pride, "I am a wall."—Song of Solomon 8:4, 10.

Show the same moral fiber and determination yourself. Be a "wall" when it comes to unwanted advances. Make your Christian stand clear to everyone around you. By doing so, you can remain "blameless and innocent" and have the confidence that you have pleased God

How Can I Conquer This Habit?

PERHAPS you, like Luiz, have been enslaved to the habit of masturbation. You know that Jehovah would be pleased with you if you resisted the urge and exercised self-control, a fruit of God’s holy spirit. (Galatians 5:22, 23; 2 Peter 1:5, 6) But at times you give in. After each relapse, you conclude that you are a lost cause, that you are incapable of living up to God’s righteous standards.

That is precisely how young Pedro viewed himself. “When I relapsed, I felt terrible,” he says. “I thought that I could never atone for what I had done. I found it hard to pray. I would start by saying: ‘Jehovah, I don’t know whether you are going to hear this prayer, but . . .’” A young man named André had similar thoughts. “I felt like such a hypocrite,” he says. “It was a struggle to get out of bed in the morning and face the day. I found it difficult to sit through Christian meetings or to participate in the ministry.”

If your feelings are similar to those of Luiz, Pedro, or André, take courage. You’re not alone, and your case is not hopeless! Many young people—and older ones—have struggled with masturbation and have been able to overcome it. You can too.#
Dealing With Guilt

As already noted, those who have fallen into the habit of masturbation are often plagued with guilt. Without a doubt, being “saddened in a godly way” can give you the incentive to overcome the habit. (2 Corinthians 7:11) But excessive guilt can be counterproductive. It can make you feel so discouraged that you just want to give up the fight.—Proverbs 24:10.

Strive, then, to put the matter in perspective. Masturbation is a form of uncleanness. It can make you a ‘slave to various desires and pleasures,’ and it fosters attitudes that can be mentally corrupting. (Titus 3:3) At the same time, self-masturbation is not a form of gross sexual immorality, such as fornication. (Ephesians 4:19) Hence, if you have a problem with masturbation, you need not conclude that you have committed the unforgivable sin. The key is to resist the urge and never to give up your fight!

Sometimes it is easy to become downhearted after a relapse. When that occurs, take to heart the words of Proverbs 24:16: “The righteous one may fall even seven times, and he will certainly get up; but the wicked ones will be made to stumble by calamity.” A temporary setback does not make you a wicked person. So do not give up. Instead, analyze what led to the relapse, and try to avoid repeating the same pattern.

Instead of continually berating yourself for your problem, take time to meditate on God’s love and mercy. The psalmist David, who was no stranger to weakness, stated: “As a father shows mercy to his sons, Jehovah has shown mercy to those fearing him. For he himself well knows the formation of us, remembering that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:13, 14) Yes, Jehovah takes into consideration our imperfection and is “ready to forgive” when we err. (Psalm 86:5) On the other hand, he wants us to put forth effort to improve.

What practical steps can you take to conquer your habit and to avoid a relapse?
The Value of Confiding

Despite the publicity given to sex in a number of lands, many people still find it difficult to talk about sex in a serious, dignified way. In your case shame might make it difficult for you to bring up the subject even to a confidant. One Christian who struggled with masturbation for several years commented: “How I wish I could have summoned the courage to talk to someone about it when I was a youth! Feelings of guilt plagued me for many years, and it seriously affected my relationships with others and, above all, with Jehovah.”

Whom should you talk to? The best person would be someone who is spiritually mature, preferably a parent. You could start by saying: “May I talk to you about a problem that is bothering me a lot?”

Mário decided to talk to his father, who proved to be very sympathetic and understanding. He even admitted to Mário that he himself had battled with the habit when he was younger. “My father’s honesty and sincerity encouraged me greatly,” Mário says. “I reasoned that if he had been victorious, I could be too. I was so moved by my father’s attitude that I broke down and cried.”

André gathered the courage to talk to a Christian elder, and he is glad that he did.% “As the elder listened to me, his eyes filled with tears,” says André. “When I finished, he assured me of Jehovah’s love for me. He told me that my problem is a common one. He promised to check on my progress and to bring me more information from Bible-study aids. Talking with him, I resolved to keep up the fight—even if further relapses occurred.”

Like Mário and André, you can find help in your efforts to conquer the habit of masturbation. Follow the advice in the accompanying box, “Take the Offensive!” Yes, be assured that you can win the battle!

* Names in this article have been changed.

# Although the people quoted in this article are males, many females also struggle with masturbation. Hence, the advice given pertains to both genders. Note, too, that this article discusses masturbating oneself. Doing it outside of marriage to another person is included in what the Bible calls fornication, a very serious sin in God’s eyes.—See the article “Young People Ask . . . What’s Wrong With Premarital Sex?” in our issue of July 22, 2004, pages 12-14.

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