Parents and Pastors: We Cannot Afford to Stay Silent to Our Teens
By Kendal Conner
As the tragic events of our nation and world have unfolded over the past few months, I have wrestled with this question: “How do I engage my students in conversation that provides the space to ask questions, lament the tragedy they see, and faithfully stand on the gospel truth they know?”
I must first admit that I am guilty of having sat back as our country and world have been hurt by one tragedy after another. I have watched as newscast after newscast has revealed so much hatred and anger, and as walls of division have grown wider. I have sat on the sidelines, assuming there is nothing I could possibly do or say that would change anything.
Yet, with each tragedy, my little corner of the world begins to not seem so little anymore. Where I once had the luxury of turning a blind eye, I no longer can. If I am to lead my students well, and if I am to confidently claim with Paul, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,” then I cannot afford to stand silent.
While I don’t claim to know the perfect way to respond, I do claim this: we must respond.
The gospel demands that we, as God’s people, think and act differently.
But how do we respond, and lead our students to respond, in the midst of such fear, distrust, and tragedy? Here are a few places I believe we can begin.
Take a Learner’s Posture
When tragedy occurs, our human nature tends to turn to fight or flight mode. We either shy away from the subject altogether, or run full-force toward an answer. However, sometimes, the humblest thing we can do is to recognize our lack of understanding and to seek wisdom.
We all possess these skewed worldviews because of our unique, individual background. As a white person, there is the pain and injustice experienced by many in the black community that I will never be able to fully understand. As a race, we must stop assuming that understanding this type of prejudice is even possible. Instead, let us take up and model a posture as learners and listeners. Let us show our students how to humbly come before others and ask about their experiences – intentionally seeking friendships with those who are different than us, knowing that the kingdom of God is one that tears down walls of hostility and unities races (Ephesians 2:14).
Claim the Source
We are often afraid to discuss hurt because we fear the blame will be placed on us; no one wants to be held responsible. Yet, as believers, we know and understand the source cause of all injustice – the root of all brokenness – sin. We should actually be the first to claim this source, and use the moment to remind our students of the gospel beauty.
Let us not turn away when we see the evident effects of sin on our world. Instead, may we bear the seed of the gospel – the only thing that can produce a harvest of righteousness, the only thing that can elicit change and transformation. Let us remember that we are all sinners. Let us claim our own sinful nature, but bearing witness to the reconciliation available through Christ’s death and resurrection. This is an opportunity to remind our student of their identity as ambassadors of God’s grace to a world that desperately needs to hear of it.
Lament and Pray
If you have never taught your students how to lament, now is the time. Before we stand up to demand answers, or to enact a plan of action, let us first bend our knees in prayer – admitting our desperate dependence on God alone. Then, let us gather together in the congregation to mourn with those who are mourning (Romans 12:15). If you don’t know where to begin, turn to the Psalms, and direct your students there as well. Show them how God’s people lament over the trials of their nation and learn from them as they cry to the Almighty for help.
This is our chance to proclaim the gospel to our students. A right understanding of God is the only way our students can truly understand the wretchedness of sin. They must understand what sin is before they can truly lament over its curse. Then, as they see their own sin, they will be spurred on to rejoice in Christ’s victory over it!
Talk about It
Reconciliation must begin in the church. Let us not turn from trials, but allow them to spur us on. Our students need to see that the church should be the first to run toward those who are hurting and broken, because we carry the only hope that can truly redeem. The worst response the church can have is silence. Silence breeds fear. The reality is that our students will talk about these trials, whether it is with us or with others around them. They are not blind to the brokenness and hurt the world is facing. In fact, in some ways, they may be more attuned to its reality than us. So who would we rather our students learn from in the midst of these tragedies, us or the world?
Let us teach our students the power of faith over fear. They need to be reminded that all hope is not lost: because we carry a message that can never fail. Let us bear witness to our students as we run with joy to a dying world with the message of life.
May our response to the world’s brokenness lead us to show our students how to grieve as a people with hope and to pray as a people who understand our sojourn in this world – awaiting our future home in glory!