I’m sure, like me, you are trying to make sense of recent horror and tragedy across the UK and indeed the world. So how do we even begin to explain them to the young people and children under our care? Here are a few things I reckon can be useful to bear in mind when processing global crises, terrorism and other horrible tragedies with our young people and children.
1) Be as honest and open as you can
Young people are getting better and better at seeing through what is fake. And nothing screams fake like putting on an ‘everything is fine’ face when everything is clearly not fine. Young people need authenticity. Being authentic requires both transparency and vulnerability and sometimes requires an ‘I don’t know’ when the suffering question comes up.
To say ‘I don’t know’ always makes me feel a little vulnerable in front of young people – they have come to me for answers and I don’t think I can provide them. I’m not sure I can even use the ‘I’ll get back to you’ card because I don’t think there are answers for why Grenfell tower happened in any book on my shelf. But that shouldn’t lead me away from the conversation. I’ll share the small amount of insight I have and ask for their opinions as they have asked for mine. But I will wrestle through these issues alongside them as a human being who also desperately wishes for better answers.
2) Connect and engage your young people with the hard questions
Bring up the tough conversations, as unprepared as you may feel for them. We must not turn a blind eye to the issues tearing open the hearts of young people. If we do they’ll begin looking elsewhere for their answers.
Talk about spiritual warfare. Paul makes it clear that our fight is not against flesh and blood but against rulers, powers and principalities of darkness. Presently people, even Christians, are taking sides against others. That won’t do and if the young people and children we love grow up in that environment it may only get worse. Let’s talk to our young people about that.
3) Lead your young people in times of prayer and fasting
Our response as Christians should be more than a tut and an angry conversation. Tragedy should lead us away from the table in fasting and down on our knees in prayer. These are disciplines not reserved for the elderly. Make sure you encourage time with your young people to fast and pray for their world and those in it. Show them that the Christian answer is to turn to the God of the universe.
4) Run a youth session on peace
I think we can misrepresent peace as the thing that makes everything suddenly feel fine. Peace, we say, means no war but it’s so much deeper than that. My most profound moments and conversations with young people this year have come from bringing up the topic of peace.
Paul talks about peace a lot. My favourite passage on the topic is Philippians 3:7…
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”
But the same Paul also talks about being hard-pressed, persecuted, struck down and perplexed in 2 Corinthians 4. Can you be confused but still have peace? Paul says so. Can you have no idea how to make sense of what’s going on but still know God’s peace in your heart? Paul says so. I think that’s probably why Paul writes about peace transcending understanding. It has to, because the rule of God stands above what we understand and that’s why Paul follows up ‘perplexed,’ with ‘…but not in despair’. We don’t know what’s going on or why but we can take a deep breath and trust that God does.
Peace is also a fruit (Galatians 5:22) which means it’s cultivated by deepening our relationship with God. Make sure you encourage your young people and children to have the honest and deep conversations with God. The Bible is full of earnest questioners. If Jesus had the ability to be raw in front of His Father, then we certainly have permission to.
5) Keep the dialogue going with us
At YFC resources we want to address the needs that churches have when engaging with young people and children. Help us to know what we need to be tackling and the tools we need to produce to make your job easier.
Church Resources Manager