12.29.14

Are we out of the woods yet? Helping teenagers with racial tension. by Brooklyn Lindsay

http://brooklynlindsey.com/out-of-the-woods/

If you’re a youth leader or parent of teenagers, you probably have had a few opportunities to talk (or not talk) about the racial tensions that have surfaced since the Michael Brown case, since the death of Eric Garner. Let me just say, that I don’t have many words. My heart aches and is disoriented with you.

Love begs for it’s place in the world and we want to join in the plea.

But I want to talk about how we do that, with teenagers specifically. Where do we start?

How do we help teenagers out of the woods of confusion, grief, doubt, dizzying disorientation that comes with racial tensions in our country and in our world?

It seems as if many of us are afraid to talk about much of it because we aren’t sure who is safe and who we can trust with our broken hearts, doubts, questions, fears, hopes, dreams, and vision for the future. We’re not sure if we’re in the clear yet, if it’s safe to go toward making things right in our own ways.

Teenagers are feeling the same and asking the same.

They’re wanting to know that we’re with them and for them as they do their best to sort all of this out. Not only is this a crisis for them, it’s a crisis during their unique crisis (a.k.a their adolescent journey).

I’m asking God to help us and give us new eyes and abilities. Because how we work this out (or ignore it) will say a lot to our kids about who we think God is and what we think love looks like.

I’m hoping that we would exercise our faith in ways that require more of it. And in this case I mean that I hope we would begin to have conversations,  listen and support in ways that say “I grieve with you” and “I care about whatever woods you are wandering in and will wait with you until you come out of it.” We can support them by giving them to ability to grieve life’s losses.

  • We can teach them to how grieve when people are hurting.
  • We can teach them how to grieve when they are hurting.
  • We can teach them how to grieve when things happen that we can’t control or explain.
  • We can create safe and intentional environments that cultivate the holy ground of vulnerability.

I began thinking about this after I had slipped into a youth ministry seminar at Youth Specialties this fall. I’ve wanted to learn from Beth Slevcove for years, and finally found a moment to learn from her. She teaches on the spirituality of grief and loss.

Not only did I begin a journey into my own grief and loss, but I also saw a picture of how we can help teenagers better.

Beth helped me to see the fear of the abyss as it  might exist when we open up places of grief.  Teens fear that they won’t have what it takes to get through whatever happens once they’ve named it and faced it. They may feel like talking about racial tensions will be too overwhelming or too costly.

That’s why we need to help them begin to process. Beth explained in a way that resonated deeply with me. All of us need grief muscles. We need prayer practices. We need options if we are help teenagers heal and become. Especially if it’s our hope that they would become people of peace and reconciliation in the world. Here are a few things we can do to help students beginning to grieve what they are seeing, hearing, and experiencing.

  • Be humanly present – Sometimes this means sitting in silence. Sometimes it means sitting in places that are symbolic together.
  • Help them name the loss – When it’s the right time to talk about a loss, ask them to name it. We have no control over the things that will hurt us or others the deepest. But we do have the ability to name those hurts without judging ourselves, judging others, or minimizing the problem.
  • Be creative – Beth said, “some people need to have grief vacations.” This is so true. To paint the picture. Imagine the effect of holding a baby or petting a new puppy. Art, music, animals, play…these are things that give us a break from the stress of grief. They give us a break from heavy.
  • Affirm the person who is hurting – Grief can make us feel paralyzed or even irrational. We can show immense amounts of support simply by offering gracious and loving words to the one who is hurting or who are confused by what is happening in the world around them.
  • Teach and practice prayer – Help teenagers hold the tension. We live for a both here and now but not yet kingdom of God –there’s isn’t any reason why we should only look to heaven for our source of relief. Relief can be felt now, even in the not yet whole again reality of our world and lives. There are a few different ways we can teach teenagers to pray. (That’ll be my next post. I share about how to use imaginative prayer and how to write a lament together.)

After we have some spent some time “in the woods”, we can begin to come out into the practice of peace and reconciliation–together as the Church in a broken world.

“We can {teach them to be} ambassadors of the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:20). In our world, we can {teach them to be able to]reflect the example of Christ and the ones who live out the vision of Isaiah 40:1–11…{by knowing how to}:

  • Speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
  • Mourn with those who mourn.
  • Comfort people wherever we find them.
  • Feel the pain of those who are hurting.
  • Seek to alleviate that pain whenever possible.
  • Be slow to speak and quick to listen to the positions of others.
  • Seek to understand the situations of others.
  • Show dignity and respect to everyone.
  • Break down walls that separate.
  • Build bridges that connect.
  • Follow in the footsteps of the Prince of Peace.
  • Extend grace and mercy to others as God has extended it to us.
  • Pray for wisdom and direction to better reflect the example of Christ to others.

( Actions from the BGS Prayer for the Church)

These are all tangible things we can do, together, with teenagers and families. They aren’t easy things to do. But we are more able when we are stable. Teenagers are going to be strengthened as you give them a voice and offer them hope. Give them a place to practice listening and sharing. Give them room to begin naming in the injustices they see, the despair they feel, the pain they discover and experience.  Then, walk with them through that shadowy woods until you see the clearing–that’s when you hold hands and run for freedom together–toward hope born in the Light.

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