Before the age of “smart bombs” there was always a calculated risk to sending a missile into a populated area. If you were lucky or good, you might actually hit the target. But because the ordinance you sent carried an explosive more powerful than what was necessary to take out the target, the circle of destruction would typically be much larger what was aimed at. Hence, the term collateral damage entered the picture.
Collateral damage is the residual effect of an explosive spilling over from its target to the surrounding area. Within that area could be structures or people that will be hit but not targeted. Everything that gets caught up in the moment that isn’t the original target is collateral damage. Smart bombs have minimized that risk but it is still a very real danger.
Collateral damage can also happen in life. Someone may hit the car behind you and push that car into the back of yours. You weren’t the original target but you were caught up in the wreck as collateral damage. A neighbor’s house catches fire and before the firemen can put it out, embers have spread to your house and now it’s burning. Again, collateral damage.
Your friend experienced a tragic loss. Empathy for him overwhelmed you and you have been caught up in the sadness and anger at the events surrounding him. What happened to him is now affecting you. You are collateral damage.
It’s hard enough to deal with our own issues but when we carry the burden for others, sometimes what they go through affects us powerfully. Paul said we are to bear one another’s burdens, thus fulfilling the law of Christ. (Gal 6:2) We enter into the arena where others hurt and help them carry the load. It is a demonstration of love.
Paul went on to say in Romans 15:1 we who are strong are to bear the weaknesses of those without strength… Which means, though we may be touched and affected by their hurt, we must remain strong to provide what they are unable to provide for themselves. They need our strength in their weakness, they need our hope in their despair, they need our faith in their doubts, they need our comfort in their loss, they need our confidence in their future.
Collateral damage should be expected. You can’t walk through life with others and not get some of what they are carrying sloshed on you. But when you do, don’t fuel their sorrow. Feed their faith. Pray for them and with them. It is God who is at work in them, both to will and to work out His good pleasure. (Phil 2:13) This bomb didn’t drop on them without God’s knowledge. And because He knew he also has intentions. Let Him work out His best for them and help as necessary.