Dealing with Tough Stuff

At first glance the article seemed amazing…   I opened it expectantly as it addressed a topic so close to my heart: Girls understanding their identity in Christ.   It began well with the realization that just “telling”  a  teen girl  that they are “pretty” enough will not solve the problem.  Yet, as I read on my frustrations rose.

If I share the piece you will most likely wonder what I am getting so uptight about.  It made great points about how the issue is that young women today need to see themselves through the eyes of Christ.  The “dilemma” is that we are looking at ourselves at all.  All eyes should be on Jesus and Jesus alone.  Again these are great points.

Here is what frustrated me.  It was one more piece about  “what” should happen.   In the end there was not answer to “how,” to help this generation with this quandary. I am tired of reading articles on “what” is wrong with no answer on how to help.   We have come to believe that if we merely talk about the problem then that brings about a solution.

We have come to believe there are certain problems that “just won’t” go away.  That means we should just talk about it. So we hold a sermon series, small group discussions or have a passing conversation on these “hard hitting topics,”  (like self-image.) Then we move on to the next one.  All the while our kids remain in a place of hurting or apathy.   We want to see them change, but we don’t know how to “make” it happen.  That is why we write posts about the problems and solutions with no answers.  In my opinion we need to stop this cycle and start addressing what we “can” do more than what we “can’t.”  Stop writing out hopeful words and start explaining what we can do.

So how do we deal with these tough topics?

1.     Identify the “circular” topics for the youth in YOUR ministry: In my group of kids bullying currently is not what they are grappling with most.  However, I do have a group of kids who firmly believe that they will “grow up to be nothing.”   They want to go to college but don’t think it will happen for them.   Me telling them they shouldn’t have this sense of hopelessness, to just look to the Lord, doesn’t make it go away.   There are some topics that are deep issues of the heart.  They don’t “go away,”  instead they keep resurfacing.  What are these for your group?

2.     Don’t Be Afraid To Take the Time It Needs: Wouldn’t we all love to give that “talk” on bullying or identity or cutting and the problem is solved?  There are subjects that scare us youth workers. The deeper we travel the rabbit hole of these sticky “matters” the darker it seems to get.   One talk,  sermon series, conversation,  or discussion will not absolve it.  These challenges have many layers.  We must be willing to take the time to peel back each one individually.  This will get messy.  This will feel unpleasant.  This will take a lot of time.  We need to be willing to “go there.”

3.     Plan an attack: Me telling my student’s God has a purpose and a plan for them just feels like a nice idea.  They know they should believe it to be true, they hear me say it ALL THE TIME.   Yet, it hasn’t taken root in their soul and heart quite yet.  This means  I have to purposely battle this issue with them. We will approach it from different perspectives.  They need to know “How” to deal with this multi-tiered struggle.   There will need to be journaling, conversations, talks, and object lessons on everything from how to do well in school to how to combat hopelessness.  Each layer needs to be blown up systematically as they learn to rest in the Lord’s arms.

The answer is always Jesus.  Most of us,  even our students recognize this is a “no brainer.”    Yet, I am learning that knowing it is true and living it out are two different things.   We all want our students to take this world back for the Lord, I think it starts with giving them tools to know how.

  • John Mulholland

    Leneita, Phil-

    I think that much of the issue at hand is that we attempt to deal with these issues from a stance of inauthenticity. We often become so focused on solving the problem, that we a) fail to deal with how difficult reality is and b) we refuse to allow Jesus to work.

    They “resurface” because we’ve merely handled their objections, rather than allowed God’s grace to work.

    We “don’t take time” because we’ve efforted a lesson plan and curriculum because our churches, parents, boards, and leadership staff expects a plan from us.

    The last one, “planning an attack” is where authenticity matters. If we are not sharing this plan because we either have lived, or are living, it…the plan is merely a great idea, just as our students indicate.

    Great stuff,

  • Phil Bell

    John, brilliant thoughts on this. I think it’s so important we take a honest hard look at how we are helping students. I think you are right. So often lack of authenticity and trying to solve the problem become a barrier to allowing Jesus to work. Thank mate!

  • Robbie Mackenzie

    I like the idea of battling with them. Of course, this means we don’t battle against them which I have seen in certain circumstances. I loved this post. Thank you.