3 Terrible Answers to Hard Student Questions
A student comes with a question that makes your heart sink into your stomach. You thought you had mastered the “stone face” to hide the shock. Yet for a split second, if they were paying attention, it registered. The gears begin to turn. You pray, Please God, give me some wisdom on this. Then you dive in for an answer. And you totally blow it.
I wish I could say that after 22 years in ministry this type of thing didn’t happen anymore. However, the more we build relational ministry, the more vulnerable our students become. Transparency breeds questions from the underbelly of their thoughts. They have been mulling their ideas over for a while, and we are expected to answer immediately. They trust we will have a worthy answer—and that is pretty humbling. But at the same time, it’s also intimidating. None of us will have the right answer every time, but here are three wrong answers we can work to avoid:
1. Answering only the superficial question
Tough questions represent students’ deeper thoughts on the difficulties of life. “Why did my grandmother have to die of cancer when she was the only person who really loved me?” Flippant, easy answers don’t seem to fit these questions. Offering a patent response only conveys that you don’t think their dilemma is important. We have to allow our students to talk and ask and go deeper. The most important piece of your response to a “why” question is constantly bringing them back to the Christ.
Often, students can get stuck on the question without really wanting an answer. They find comfort in the perpetual cycle of questioning. This is the perfect opportunity to point to Jesus as the only worthy Comforter. We may never understand “why,” but we can learn to trust in a God who loves us unconditionally.
2. Denying permission to feel angry
Sometimes our students need permission to feel. They are angry about life experiences, and they blame God. You and I know it isn’t his fault. And we’ll be tempted to dismiss their misplaced anger. Maybe we’re worried other students will become infected by their rage, or maybe we just don’t know how to deal with it, but it’s easy to cover over pain with false smiles and an upbeat worship song or two. Yet ignoring students’ anger will only make it worse. The only way they can get past their frustration in a healthy way is to work through it.
Give them space to rage and to know that God is big enough to handle their pain and frustration. He wants to melt their hurt and catch their tears. They need permission to tell him everything, to hold nothing back, so the two of them can work out their relationship. Help them see his love.
3. Dismissing their question as “drama”
A student’s perspective colors how they see you, the world, and God. Their question may seem like nothing to you, but to them, it feels like the end of the world. How many times have we thought, That student is just being dramatic, or Why can’t that student just grow up?
But we can’t assume our students know how to navigate life issues that may seem trivial to us. Our perspective distorts these questions, too—hindsight is 20/20, after all. They are teens, not adults. We can’t expect them to magically become mature overnight. Phrases like “deal with it” and “suck it up” aren’t helpful. They’ll only plant the seeds of a grudge and further stain their perspective of you.
The most helpful thing we can do in the midst of students’ hardest questions is sit, listen, and love. Sit face-to-face with a student and work to make eye contact as much as possible. Listen to the question without thinking of an answer or follow-up. Just listen. Finally, love them. Speak words of truth and life. And no matter what, tell them who our Lord is and what he thinks of them. We will never have all the answers. But we serve a living God who does.
About the Author
Leneita Fix co-founded Frontline Urban Resources with Jeffrey Wallace to equip, coach, and speak into the lives of those working with families living in a “survival mode” mentality. They refer to this thinking as the “new urban.” Combined, they carry almost four decades of experience in the family ministry setting, most of it in traditional urban ministry. However each… Read More