In times of terror and tragedy, how can we talk with teenagers in a way that will help them cope and even thrive? I was encouraged to have some great conversations with my 14-year-old son this week regarding the Boston Marathon Bombing, the Ricin mailings, and the Texas Fertilizer Explosion…not to mention the other “regular” stresses that have impacted his everyday adolescent life. It’s not always easy to know how to start these conversations, what content to share, or how vulnerable to be ourselves, but it is possible to create opportunities for effective, deep sharing and reflection.
If it’s helpful for you, here are some simple introductory guidelines I’ve come up with over the years to help older people “T.A.L.K.” with students about difficult situations. None of these ideas are particularly new…just a common sense acrostic that I’ve developed as tragedies and terrors have passed by. These might seem simplistic, at first, but they set up a trustworthy framework for deep conversations.
- Take Time—Everyone processes difficulties differently. So take time to invest in teens in ways that build them up and show that you are “there” for them. Don’t disappear and isolate your “adult” coversations. Be attentive. Sharing your own feelings/thoughts is okay…but be careful to focus attention on the student(s). Taking time to use teens to codependently seek your own processing is selfish and ultimately harmful. Take time that is intentionally set aside to facilitate discussion or reflection for their sake. [Note: Another important “T” here is to “Trust that God is at Work” in the life of your teen. This takes tremendous pressure off of you to be the fix-it person in terrible times; Note 2: It is also important to be “Truthful” about events. Half-truths or false facts, even for the sake of protecting someone, can have an adverse effect later.]
- Ask Questions—Instead of doing all the talking or trying to direct the conversation, simply ask open-ended questions that will help teens articulate what they already know, or what they are already processing. Avoid advice at first (wait until they ask you or seem ready to receive) and avoid talking about yourself. Try hard to ask conversation starters that enable the student to verbalize and discover aloud for themselves. (e.g. “What do you know of what happened today?”; “What do you think causes people to do this?”; “How would you have responded if you had been there?”; “When things like this happen, what becomes the most important priority in your life?”; etc.)
- Listen—An adult who actually listens to teenagers is a rare and, therefore, a treasured person in our society. Most adults will hear an answer and then jump in with their own answers or explanations (inevitably discouraging a student from sharing again the next time a question is asked). In other words, don’t assume that just because you successfully asked a question that you will automatically successfully listen. To patiently hear and internalize and process what teenagers say (without butting in) is more than most adults have time for. Again, steps 1+2 come into play here. Take Time. Ask questions. And then, do what only a few do: Listen.
- Keep Calm—The environment we establish from our posture is influential. If we are panicked, most likely so will be our students. Set the tone of encouragement, reassurance, and relative safety. Normalize a loving environment in the midst of turbulence. Let teens know that you will take time, ask them questions, listen to them, and keep calm. In many ways, this process is similar to what a triage camp does in a time of crisis. Allow your student room to process what they need to process. And in your posture of calm, they will begin to explore with you, in a way relevant and unique to them, what they need to thrive through difficult scenarios.
All Creation Sings started with a Kickstarter campaign back in February. It was fully funded, and Jeremy Vanderloop has just released it to the world. It’s not flashy. It’s not going to change the face of worship music. But it is a solid entry into the genre.
His voice sounds a great deal like Joel Davis of Ascend The Hill—in fact, his sweeping music style reminds of that entire band’s sound. That’s not to say he’s a copycat; in fact, he sounds unique in a sea of sameness. You’ll mostly hear piano, and guitar, but there are also strings throughout the album. Thematically, this is about God loving us in our brokenness and shame—we’re the pearls in the field, and God’s given everything for that pearl… “The Struggle” is about the feelings warring inside of him, and he prays that he would turn toward God in that struggle. “Deep Calls Out” builds to a choir-filled finale. After all of the flash and big arrangements and cello, the most powerful song (to me) was “Beautiful”—a voice-and-guitar song that pulls you in with its simplicity and beauty. If I had one complaint, it would be that some of the lyrics seem simple—safe, perhaps. But maybe that’s just because I’m a word guy—I want people to start using a thesaurus! But don’t let that stop you from checking out this album; Jeremy has real talent, and I love that he’s using it for God’s glory.
By Theresa Mazza
My honeymoon phase in youth ministry was exactly what I imagined it would be. A giddy newlywed, I was absolutely head-over-heels in love with my new life as a youth pastor, and enjoyed an early blissful marriage to my youth group. I felt fulfillment and purpose. And I had no doubt that I was perfectly in the center of God’s will for my life.
I was 22 years old—the first female youth pastor ever hired at the church I was serving. I was doing everything a youth pastor should: my lessons were biblical and interactive, my events were fun, the parents were happy, and our discipleship program was impressively attended. Every mark my supervisor wanted me to hit, I hit. I did this by developing a core group of students. I’d witnessed this type of leadership investment before and knew it would work here. These teenagers were absolutely on fire for God and very active in every part of the ministry.
The investment was paying off. My core group served their guts out. They worshipped every Sunday night as if it were their last day on earth. They were faithful followers and hard-core student leaders. And they made me look good… really good. My ego was, well, healthy. And I knew—just knew—that I’d be the youth pastor at this church for a very long time.
But then God decided it was past-time for the honeymoon to end. A cloud of dissatisfaction settled over me, and it dawned on me that I was not the perfect youth pastor serving a youth group full of perfect teenagers. There was a kind of dark underbelly to all of my “success”:
• I called some kids by name and others by my default greeting: “Hey man.”
• While our core group was worshipping like crazy, the rest of the group sat patiently on the sideline for 30 minutes as our leaders talked over and around them.
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By Rebecca Hug
For a long time now I’ve wished to be married. I want a partner. I want a friend. I don’t want to end up alone… There are many nights I come home wanting to download about my action-packed day of ministry, but I’m met with eerie silence, a laundry list of chores only I will complete, and a sense of personal failure and abandonment from God. Being single in a world shaped for couples and the nuclear family is NOT easy. Just a few months ago I recorded a severe moment of heartache:
“I stare into the face of my bitter reality—the wives’ small group. Their perfectly poofed hair, their pristinely picked-out patterns, their purses and phones that beep and jingle in chorus with the busyness of their wife-y schedules. Their shiny left-handed protrusions mock me. I am single. One. Bachelorette. Solo. Lone ranger. Lonely. Alone.
I’ve never been as bitter as I am now. I’ve never felt as lonely as I do now. I’m slapped in the face every time I hear the word ‘single’ in relation to my existence…and yet, I’m in the midst of this desert without water.
Most situations in which I find myself feeling depleted of worth, or wanting of hope, I can find a way out. But this one situation, this prevalent disease and prevailing disparity of my life, cannot be solved by my own means, by my own work, by my own want.
I would hope that I could have faith in saying that God will deliver me from this desert…But I’m not so certain. I’ve prayed for him—where is he? I’ve prepared for him—who is he? I’ve needed him—when will he be made clear to me? When will God deliver me from my bitterness and loneliness? When will God honor my heart for loving this one I will call husband? When, O God? When?” (Journal, March 2012)
I realized that in my desire to be a wife—to feel “complete”—I’d become blind to the joy that comes from trusting that God knows my heart, and wants me to be filled with happiness. I’d been drowning out God’s voice with the lies and fears swirling in my head about this seeming death sentence of being single. My fears of ending up alone, and desire for marital bliss, became idols before the Lord.
Through conversations with a few amazing women and men of God I’ve been able to hear more clearly God’s call for me in the midst of what feels like a desert of despair. No…I’m not miraculously in the perfect relationship, headed toward the “American dream”—and there are still plenty of moments of heartache. But God has revealed to me three things that have brought peace, a new perspective, and a desperately needed hope back into my life.
1. Create healthy community
God has reintroduced me to the importance of creating healthy community. From a young age we’re groomed to look to marriage as one of the main sources of love, support, and life purpose. When we become overly focused on reaching this goal, we miss the community that surrounds us already, and the love God offers us freely, regardless of our marital status. Christ built community everywhere he went, and we’re called to do the same. It may not be the community or relationship that you want right now, but humble yourself to connect with a group of people who get you and your ministry, who will pray with you and hold you accountable, and who will remind you to live a life of integrity, passion for God, and positive joy in the Lord.
2. Build healthy relationships
God has reminded me that healthy relationships take lots of practice and intentional pruning. God has revealed to me negative behaviors, patterns, and pitfalls that I’m prone to spiral into. He’s also given me the opportunity to work on these issues now, before I get into a serious relationship. He’s reminded me to communicate in a healthy way, to take away competition and replace it with kindness, to listen and seek to understand first before unloading like a fool, and to accept that both persons in a relationship are flawed, but can, through honesty and vulnerability, support one another in their faith journey.
3. Trust God
Lastly, I’ve been reassured that God knows the deepest desires of my heart and seeks to shape me now into a woman who’s filled with joy and glorifies God through and in any relationship. Being single isn’t a simple category—some are single from divorce, some are widowers, some have children, and some have chosen to be single. Our deepest desires aren’t all the same; we don’t all hope for marriage. For me, I’m ecstatic about someday being a godly wife and a mother who shapes children who love the Lord. I trust that God is preparing my husband to be a man of the Lord every day…even though I don’t yet know him.
I pray God would reveal to me what it means to be a woman of the Lord and a wife. God’s preparing me now to receive those desires in my life. I just have to maintain trust.
Rebecca is the director of youth ministry at a church in Hilliard, Ohio. She also led the singles Connect Group at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference this year.