Walking Your Students through the Unthinkable
By Danielle Rhodes
It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I first encountered death. A close friend collapsed from heat stroke in the middle of a 5K run. Three days later, every organ in his body had failed, and he died—two days before his 29th birthday.
He had served God more fiercely than any man I had ever met. My friends and I pleaded for his life. For three days we fasted and prayed and hoped that God would revive our brother. But he didn’t.
I went through a spiritual crisis. I challenged God, even called him cruel. My disappointment in my friend’s death, and ultimately in God’s choice not to heal him, was paralyzing. For a moment, my hope in God’s goodness vanished—and I was 25 years old. I cannot imagine what it would’ve been like to go through such a painful process 10 years earlier. Yet this happens all the time to the students in our youth ministries.
Think of the last person you sat next to you in traffic. You may not know a single thing about them, but more than likely, you have something in common: you have both grieved. Grief is one of the most confusing, frustrating, and universal of human experiences. For our students, the moment of loss can be transformative—either toward despair and cynicism or toward hope and resilience.
How can we support students and continue to disciple them in the midst of the grieving process? Understanding grief is the first step.
supporting the grieving process
1) Although grief is universal, it is also varies from person to person
Don’t expect to help every grieving student in the same way. They will all have different needs. Some will come straight to you with questions or frustrations or seeking comfort. Others will withdraw from relationships.
You should seek them out, but perhaps not immediately. Use discernment and pray for God’s guidance in how to approach each student according to his or her needs.
2) Talking about the loss will help
The shock following a loss is often crippling. Regardless of whether the student has lost a loved one, a home, or security, a number of emotions can overwhelm a student. In one day, the student may feel sadness, anger, relief, despair, guilt, and even happiness in some form.
Talking to someone about the circumstances surrounding the loss and about the loss itself will help a student make sense of those conflicting emotions. Getting a student to open up about a loss may be tricky, but I have found that sharing about my own experience with grief frees students to open up to me.
3) Make plans and follow through
We were not meant to navigate this world alone, and during this process, distraction can be very therapeutic. So take the student to a movie. Grab lunch. Do something with the whole youth group. Normal activities can remind a student that there is life after loss.
4) Faith is critical for healing
Faith in the midst of grief exists to move an individual forward to restoration. Grief serves as a reminder of the inescapable truth that we are all vulnerable. As a teenager, I thought I was indestructible. But loss shatters that illusion.
Faith in God’s sovereignty provides comfort that, despite the vulnerability of humankind, there is some bigger, deeper meaning to the trials we face in life. Faith provides the fundamental belief and hope for our future. We cannot survive without hope. It’s the motivation to rebuild, to restore, and to endure.
When our students encounter grief and loss, the single most important thing we can do is point them back to Christ. Through his death and resurrection, God took the greatest loss the world had ever seen and redeemed it into his greatest triumph.
After Jesus was crucified, his followers were at a low point, grieving their loss of safety, direction, and hope. But the minute the met their risen Lord, discovering God’s redemption through the loss, they were changed for life. Frightened men who scattered and hid when Jesus was arrested became resilient martyrs, willing to die for the cause of Christ.
That same redemptive power can see your students through their grief. And once they’ve gotten a glimpse of God’s redemption, their faith will become that much more robust.
So journey with them through their grief. Remind them of how Christ redeems our loss. Stir their faith—in the future (helping them rebuild), in upcoming restoration (for which we strive), and in their God-ordained purpose (pushing them to endure).
About the Author
The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry… Read More