Two Things Parents Can Focus on to Support Their College Student When Tragedy Strikes4 min read

I woke up on Valentine’s Day shocked by the news of what had happened the night before—the opposite of celebrating the joy of human love. It hit my heart. May God have mercy on all involved, heal those impacted with His love, and work His resurrection power that overcame death and the grave to stop the violence on our campuses. At Concordia University Ann Arbor, we are heartbroken for the Spartan community and all who have been affected by the act of violence and murder. We are praying to God for healing as the MSU community and families navigate forward (Romans 12:15).

Initially, maybe like you, I’m sad that my fellow humans have been hurt. I’m afraid for schools everywhere that violence might continue. I’m angry that, somehow, we can’t seem to stop such awful events.

When trouble like this happens, I encourage you as a parent to consider focusing on two things:

1. YOU

Take some time with God for YOUR wellbeing. Talk with God about how YOU are doing with this situation, and be honest. He loves to hear it. He will help you manage YOUR emotions so you can be in a healthy place to be available for your student (bashing or blaming others likely won’t help them in this time). Spend time with Him in His Word, like reading Psalm 27, 46, or 67 to be reminded of His love and goodness in the face of evil. God has promised that His Spirit will work through His Word to enable you to trust Him to do such things as: love your student at all times (Jeremiah 31:3); hold them through everything in their life (John 10:27–28); work in their life even through this (Luke 13:1–5). The point is to immerse YOURSELF in God’s love for you. He proved it on the cross and Jesus’s resurrection. That doesn’t change, no matter what our experiences may be. Nothing in this world can change His love for you, for your student, for everyone (Philippians 4:5b–7).

As a dad of four children who have all been through various struggles in college, I can relate to feeling anxious and afraid when such calamity hits, especially when they are far from home—even if the troubles didn’t happen on their campus. As the Dean of Students at Concordia University Ann Arbor and LCMS Ordained Clergy, I have the privilege of walking with students and their families every day. I’ve noticed that some seem healthier than others. One key ingredient is the student experiencing God’s love in Christ Jesus through the parent’s reactions and support. So again, remember that your love for your student starts with YOU being immersed in God’s love for them.


Be intentional with your student. Such events can be hard on college students, no matter what school they attend. Check in to make sure they feel safe and if they have any questions. Safety is a basic human need that God understands (John 16:33). If it’s okay for your family situation, consider having them come home for a little while if needed, to feel safe. However, it’s important to encourage them to work out how THEY can manage going back to campus safely. Communication is key: acknowledge that this is hard; ask them open-ended questions about how they’re doing; be honest about your own emotions; and have an open ear. Try to keep your focus on supporting them to walk in healthy ways. That includes trusting Jesus. Assure them that God is present in all things. It’s important to help THEM find the support they need, like clergy, counselors, talking with friends, etc. both on campus and if they come home. Remember, this is an opportunity for THEM to learn how to manage life, trusting God through it all. Don’t rescue them (unless they are hurt) but continue to pray for them that they will lean into Jesus, and do point them by your words and actions to the One who is able to hold them through anything they face in this life. As you trust them to navigate this, you are demonstrating your trust in the Lord to walk with them.

May God grant us humility and trust in Him with such mysteries that surpass our understanding and may the God of peace be with us all (Romans 15:33). Amen.

Photo © Frank Alarcon/Unsplash

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About the Author

Rev. John Rathje (LPC, NCC, SPM) serves as Dean of Students at Concordia University Ann Arbor and as the Michigan District Mental Health Support Coordinator.

More by This Author

Craig Britton - February 16, 2023

Wonderful counsel, dear brother. I remember sitting with you at CRAVE in St. Louis the weekend the Va. Tech shooter stole other young lives. We prayed together there. It helped. Thanks for the strong counsel to not rescue your children. Of course be present. But allow Jesus to be primary. How blessed we all are to have you on campus. God guard all our nation’s campuses. Peace to you, John.

BOB DICKHUDT - February 18, 2023

May all of us who are walking with Jesus have our eyes and hearts open to folks we have contact with who seem to be “lonely”, overly angry about things, friendless, alone, …..young or old, in school, church, neighborhood, stores, elevators, etc. Sometimes a simple hello, or comment on “clever shirt words”, or “nice outfit” can change a person’s day around. Shooters often seem to be folks who are “left out of the mainstream”, or very angry about “something”. Who knows, our kind, simple, caring little comments may cause something good to happen.

Rev. Garrick Beckett - February 21, 2023

While the psychological aspect is important, one vital piece is missing here: helping the student get plugged in at a campus ministry where they can hear the Gospel and seek pastoral care during such tragedies. It’s disappointing that Word & Sacrament ministry, a most vital need for college students, was not mentioned.