When tragedy strikes, or when we have to live with broken lives or broken dreams, it can be hard to move forward, stay motivated or want to go on. We may have lost someone close to us or someone we love. We may find ourselves feeling all alone and afraid, or struggling emotionally to deal with difficult circumstances. We may face an uncertain future wondering how long things will be like this and whether life will ever get better.
All of us go through trying times. And perhaps none are more silently and deeply vulnerable than the younger ones in our midst. By God’s grace, we can, as concerned adults, be better equipped to help them process the effects of trauma, their emotional and spiritual pain, so that through it all, they come to experience God’s love for them. This journey would include, at the appropriate time, helping them process why they are feeling what they are feeling.
WHY THEY ARE FEELING WHAT THEY ARE FEELING
When we experience bad things, our hearts and minds can be wounded. It’s important to take care of heart wounds so that inner healing can take place. One way a heart wound can be healed is through telling someone about what happened and how it felt. God is the One who heals, but time and again He uses people in the process.
We learn to listen well to them by gently asking three “listening questions”:
- “Can you remember what happened?” This helps to build rapport, and to establish facts and timeline.
- “How do/did you feel?” Healing takes place at the level of emotions. Enabling them to name their feelings helps them give clarity to what may otherwise be vague emotions. A possible activity is to provide a list of words that describe feelings they may have and encourage them to circle those they have experienced because of this tragic or intensely trying event. There are no wrong feelings! Help them understand that feelings are a natural response to things that happen in our lives. It is normal to have difficult feelings when difficult things happen to us.
- “What was the hardest part for you?” Each person is different. We need to know the answer to this from them individually. This can also help to clarify which feeling is the strongest for them right now. It can also help to discover what the young person does when he/she feels this way.
Another activity is to help them to name their losses by thinking about how a tragic or intensely trying event has interrupted their life, such as in their plans and fears for the future, not knowing when this “life-on-hold” feeling is going to end or what the “new normal” will bring (as in this coronavirus pandemic). There may be, in other tragic or trying situations, the death of a loved one or friend, relational loss because of a broken relationship, seeming death of an academic dream because of disappointing examination results, or deeper things like personal welfare and safety. After they have indicated what they have lost, encourage them to write down how each loss made them feel or to draw a face showing that feeling(s).
POINTING TO A BIBLE SPOTLIGHT
Jesus understands feelings. In John 11:1–44, Jesus cried with Mary and Martha, who must have had many feelings like sadness, loneliness, anger, regret, hopelessness, fear and maybe others.
WHAT THEY CAN DO WITH THESE FEELINGS
Having experienced such losses, the feelings they have named are connected to the grief they are feeling because of those losses. Loss always leads to grief. Grief is normal and healthy as it helps us deal with the loss we feel. It is the emotional response we feel when we have lost someone or something that means a lot to us.
We can facilitate their grieving process by helping them understand the grief journey as a “street” with “bus stops” along the way.
Bus stop one: denial and anger. Our first response to losing something or someone important to us is often to not believe it is happening. Along with doubting that it’s true, we can feel angry about the loss and try to find someone or something to blame so we can aim our anger there. Sometimes, we feel it’s easier and safer to express anger than to express sorrow.
Bus stop two: no hope. Eventually, our denial and anger begin to fade and we face the reality of the loss. We feel hopeless, as if nothing will ever be good again. Some people show this stage by crying, withdrawing, or being depressed. They may not feel like taking care of themselves, doing schoolwork or their usual activities. They may resort to numbing the pain with activities that harm themselves.
Bus stop three: new beginnings. We come to a place of resolution recognising that things will never be the same, but we learn we can live with the loss. We can talk about our loss without the sharp pain that we felt when the loss was new. We accept that we can’t get those people or things back, and we can accept this “new normal’ in the face of the loss(es). We even begin to dream again, to plan, to step forward to map our goals, no matter how small the step.
Grief Street Bypass. Sometimes people want to skip the “stops” and try to take a bypass directly to “new beginnings”. They don’t allow themselves the time or space to be sad or angry about their loss. There may be people in their life that tell them that to “just get over it”. Or sometimes, they hear in church that they must “praise God for everything all the time”. The Bypass is not healthy. Going through the stages of grief is important so we can deal honestly with our loss.
Riding the bus. The grief journey is often not direct. Many times, when we think about what we have lost, we find our feelings going back to a stage we thought we had already passed. We might go back to denial and anger (bus stop one) and/or to feeling no hope (bus stop two). Over time, we are able to move forward again, and one day to stay in “new beginnings”.
POINTING TO A BIBLE SPOTLIGHT
David grieved with his men about their losses, but found his solace and strength in God. (Psalm 13)
HOW THEY CAN LIVE FORWARD
The Lord Jesus knows all the pains they are carrying. It’s important for them to be able to bring these pains to Him so He can bring healing to their wounded hearts. We enable their journey of wound bearing and pain bearing to Jesus.
Step one: Write down their worst pain(s). Pray with each person asking God to show him/her the most painful things buried deep in their heart. Encourage him/her to write these down on a piece of paper or they might prefer to draw a picture of these things instead of using words. Give him/her time to do this and assure them no one will ever see what they have written.
Step two: Bring their pains to the cross. Encourage him/her to talk to Jesus about the pains they have put on their piece of paper. Give him/her time to do this and when they are ready, encourage him/her to take their papers, to go and to put them at the foot of the cross in the small box provided.
Step three: Burn the papers (optional, but recommended). When the paper(s) have been deposited, take them outside and read Isaiah 61:1–3. Thereafter, burn the papers to show and explain the suffering each one has experienced has become like ashes. Pray with the person that they will experience Jesus healing their wounded or broken hearts.
HOW THEY CAN RELATE TO GOD IN TRAGIC AND TRYING TIMES
Sometimes, living through tragic and trying times force us to evaluate what we believe about God and to decide what is really important in our lives.
We encourage them to hold fast to the Word of God.
Teach them to remember important truths such as:
- What if I’m afraid? “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps 27:1)
- What if I think I’m all alone and God has left me? “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Josh 1:9)
- What if someone said that I have no future, that I’m hopeless? “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jer 29:11 NIV):
Hill, Harriet, Margaret Hill, Richard Bagge, and Pat Miersma. Healing the Wounds of Trauma. Philadelphia: American Bible Society, 2016.
McCombs, Margi and James Covey. Unstuck: A Teen Guide for Living In Uncertain Times. Philadelphia: American Bible Society, 2020.
Rev Chan Mei Ming is a pastor at Faith Methodist Church, where she oversees the Enlarge Pillar comprising Missions, Witness & Evangelism, Outreach & Social Concerns, and Chaplaincy Ministries.