It’s 2:45 a.m.
I’m wide awake.
I’ve learned some things about life, culture and youth ministry while in South Asia. But I’ve also learned that jet-lag is a real thing and I’m still not the best at adjusting to it. The good news, I’ve got a few quiet hours to share what I’m learning about grief, loss and joy.
For certain, all of us are on a personal journey figuring out how to sit with all three. But we are also members of a group of people who have frequent exposure to the grief, loss and joy as it’s experienced through kids and teenagers.
This week I’ve heard stories about what friends from other non-Western cultures do to support those who experience great loss. We share so much in common. Yet, we all have unique ways in which we comfort those who need comforting. It’s beautiful and helpful to hear their experience, and I believe we would benefit to contextualize each others best practices, especially those born out of international models of relational youth ministry.
During these conversations there was an incredible podcast in my feed about this very topic. David Kessler and Rob Bell shared some incredible thoughts on the topic. I listened to it twice. It was that good.
Their conversation combined with the one I’m currently having with youth leaders from other cultures and contexts is helpful for us in youth ministry.
Because most kids and youth, when they come to you, are looking for a way out of their crisis. Whatever pain or loss they are feeling, they’d rather not feel it. They want relief from it.
Usually there isn’t a way out of it and there’s nothing we can do to change the circumstances of it. But there’s always healing when we walk into the pain further. When they are looking for a way out, our job is to point them to healing on the way in.
David said, “You don’t heal what you can’t feel.”
Which begs the question.
- How do we help kids and youth feel their pain?
- How do we help kids and youth heal from current and past grief and loss?
Here are five things to do, some ideas are my own, some are from David, others are from friends I’m currently talking to from around the globe, I hope this is helpful to you. It’s been helpful for me personally simply sitting with these ideas and thoughts.
1 – FEEL YOUR OWN PAIN
Before we can comfort a young person through grief, we have to face our own. Not in the context of a kid sharing theirs with us, but in the context of our daily living and experience.
The amount of vulnerability and courage that’s required to talk about and share grief is huge. The more at home we are in our humanity, the more at home students will be sharing theirs with us.
2 – INVITE THEM TO FEEL
David commented that “grief is a no judgement zone.” Comparison shouldn’t be an option. Grief is unique to every person who experiences it. Tell those in your care that it’s safe to feel whatever they feel. Encourage them to feel it and remind them that there isn’t any judgement for what they feel.
3 – BE WITH THEM
Youth ministry 101: Be with kids and teenagers. Youth ministry 101.2: When students experience a crisis or off the charts joy, be with them MORE. Validate the range of emotions in a kids life and show up when they need you most.
My youth pastor showed up on our doorstep with his wife to pray with my sister and I when two teenage girls died unexpectedly in an auto accident. He wanted to make sure he could be with us if we needed him. He was also the one to give the most high fives when we accomplished big things or laugh/cry with us when we lost ourselves in joy.
4 – BE A WITNESS
“Grief must be witnessed.” – David Kessler
When David shared this on the podcast I dropped everything and bolted from the hotel balcony to find a pen. Our role as ministers to kids and teenagers is to be a witness to their development, their pain, their joy and their questions. I was AH-HA’ing to this “be a witness thing” so loud you could probably hear me over the students dive bombing into the pool three floors below.
This. Is. Huge.
Grief needs a witness.
Parents, leaders, pastors. You are a witness. A vital, important, significant witness.
Everyone needs at least one person to witness their pain.
There’s a story about a village that practices this “bearing witness” with those who grieve—I’m still trying to figure out what culture does this and have been interviewing friends from around the world all week to find the source—but it was a story shared by David and one that can serve us in youth ministry in a really significant way.
There is a village who, after a loved one has died, witnesses their grief by doing one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard of. After the person has experienced the loss, everyone in the community has to very obviously MOVE something in their lawn. When the person who is grieving wakes up the next day, they can see that EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED.
It might be like a student’s friend group who changes their profile pictures the next day to mourn a loss together. I can think of nothing more beautiful but to give someone permission to grieve, to feel, to be KNOWN so intimately that others would say it with their lives—your life has changed, we see it, we honor it and we’re here for you through it.
5 – HELP THEM STAY SAFE
In the wake of crisis, it may feel like everyone is living life business as usual, but they will wake up tomorrow and the next day still thinking about what they have lost. Look for triggers, moments where they might become emotionally, socially, spiritually or physically vulnerable and be there for them. Recognize the new ways that life could be painful. Give them a reason to believe that their life is important. Remind them that their life shifts the world and reflects a Creator in a way that only they can. Help them see their significance even when they feel like they’ve lost something most significant.
Your life, your witness, your love could change how a kid feels about what they’ve lost.
Pain is inevitable, but suffering doesn’t have to linger longer. Suffering is what happens when we don’t know what to do with our pain. You can give kids a place to feel and heal from their pain.
This is good news for youth ministry. That our lives could be a healing witness to the pain kids feel.
This article originally appeared here.