Compassion for the Task at Hand

Compassion for the Task at Hand

This past week I had the honor of speaking to about 100 students over the span of four nights at a church camp. I’ve never been asked to keynote a whole camp before, so obviously I was thrilled to have the opportunity. Our topic was about identity, which is a theme this particular group of students has been studying over the last year. I believe identity is one of the most important topics anyone can engage in when it comes to socialization, personality, spirituality, relationships, really anything. This is especially true with teenagers.

Those who study adolescents say these precious young people are on a journey between childhood and adulthood – and the bridge across is called “adolescence”. All adolescents have a task – identity formation. And for the most part, their identity formation is driven by a single, but inaudible question, “Who am I?”

I love talking to teenagers about this. It’s like I’m sharing a secret with them that no other adults are willing to share. I had multiple teens come up to me after my talks and say, “I love that you told us about this! It helps things make so much more sense!”

It’s not only a shame that teenagers do not understand more about the journey they are on, but also that adults seem to be late to the party as well. When we interact with teenagers and decisions they make, we often forget what is driving many of those decisions to begin with – the big question. So when your student comes home with purple hair or has completely changed their belief system on a particular issue with no warning – maybe there is more going on than them just being rebellious.

You see the driving question of “Who am I?” isn’t something they audibly ask – it’s something they work out by trying on new skins or doing things differently than they used to. Sometimes they will be more childlike than adult-like and visa versa. But it’s all part of the process of figuring out who they are.

Why is this important? One word. Compassion.

Being a teenager is hard and confusing. There are so many messages out there, so many things competing for their attention that it can get overwhelming to figure out who they really are. So when they make feeble attempts through their decisions and interactions, they won’t always get it right. And if we can approach them with patience and compassion, connections and relationships form – all things that will outlast dumb decisions!

I encourage our readers to view the teenage years gently and with grace. As adults who help teenagers, we have the opportunity to lead with compassion, building connections along the way. This can only be done by understanding and accepting what teenagers are up to – developmentally. They are literally figuring out who they are. And, if we can be there – encouraging, asking questions, being slow to judge – our kids will have the support they need to complete this task.

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s CEO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
Helping Students Lament

Helping Students Lament

This past week, I was on staff at a church camp and spent time teaching a Bible Class. Earlier in the Spring, they put out the class list for the teachers to choose a topic, and I guess I got there a little too late…One of the only topics left was on mourning. Yay! Or boo, I guess.

As I started preparing for this lesson, I was led to the various “laments” in the Old Testament of the Bible. In these laments, the authors would express their pain and grief in such a way to leave no doubt how they were feeling about things. Typically, the authors would speak in metaphors to describe the pain they were going through, and often the finger was pointed directly at God.

Being a former youth pastor, I thought I had taught it all. And having taught “church kids” most of that time, I assumed they have heard it all.

But not this time.

As we walked through some of the laments, you could see the students leaning forward in their chairs and paying extra-close attention to the words of the psalmists. They were captured by the metaphors and astonished by the words of those in pain.

Can they say that?” – was a common question as students explored passages like Psalm 88:3-7 and Lamentations 2:1-12.

You see, the structure and usage of lament functioned like therapy before there was anything like it. The ancient Jews had a relationship with God that allowed them to both praise and yell at God, depending on what was going on.

In other words, the ancient writers assumed something about the human condition: We have to tell the truth, somehow. 

And, we will end up telling the truth, somehow.

Laments are simply a healthy way for someone to mourn and grieve. They are a way to “tell the truth” about how they are feeling without fear of retribution. It’s an opportunity to lay everything on the table and take stock of what you have.

Because, the truth will come out at some point – but maybe not in the way we would think. We all are burdened with life and what can happen. Injustice, violence, loss, sorrow, and brokenness dance around us everyday. And with the advent of social media, we know more about human suffering than ever before.

We hold all of this stuff inside. The bad stuff of life can become a part of us if we don’t find a healthy way to “get it out”. If we don’t, it comes out in ways that are far less helpful. Anger, abuse, substance, self-harm, depression, anxiety, despair, and violence will “tell the truth” about how we are really feeling about things if we choose not to get things out in a heathy way.

Ultimately, we all tell the truth about what is going on inside of us. 

As someone who loves teenagers, I am worried about their ability to really deal with the hard stuff of life. Many assume venting over social media and texts is the way to go. For a lot of teenagers, there is no real safe place to go and “get it out” unless they go to a counselor or group.

Let’s create space and opportunity for our teenagers to lament. Whether it is at a church, in your home, or within the context of a loving relationship, maybe we can allow a student to speak about how they actually feel regarding the tough stuff of life.

It might sound confusing. It might not make sense. They might cuss. They might be disrespectful. They might point the finger at God. Or, you.

But, it is how they feel – and that is an incredible starting point for healing. Because, how they feel isn’t where they will end up on their journey through pain. Likely, it is just the starting point.

What do you think about this? Have you been around someone who is truly lamenting? Have you? How has it helped? 

Chris Robey, Teen Lifeline’s Program Director, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.