The Terrorist Attack in Manchester and Talking to Our Youth

Before I had children, my TV was on all of the time. And most of the time, it was on cable news. I know, cable news dialogue makes for terrible ambiance; that is why they mute it in airports. But all of that cable news-watching ended when my wife and I had our first child. It just didn’t seem right anymore. All that negativity and despair blaring in the background was in awful juxtaposition to where my true attention was now, focused on the hopefulness and joy of a new life. From political scandals to tragedies at pop concerts, talking with our youth about what is happening in the world is not easy. How do we explain the news to our teens when we don’t understand it ourselves?

The images of fear-stricken teens and preteens running out of the Manchester arena are gutting. The look of terror on the faces of youth who, minutes before, were the quintessential faces of concert euphoria, is especially startling when you realize those kids look just like our kids. Those kids were no different, and we as pastors and parents have to reckon with that unsettling truth.

Part of growing up is the unveiling of a world that is far harsher than first realized. For many children around the world, this happens at a very young age. Global terrorism and the medium of social media offers a new form of unveiling.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman Christians about the groaning of the earth (Romans 8:22-26). I believe this is firstly about the physical degradation of the earth, but I cannot help but think it also bears with it the worldwide groaning that happens when there are Syrian airstrikes, dance club massacres, transit bombings, and school shootings.

So, how do we talk about this with our teenagers?

I think we groan.

I believe that we should let our children see us groan in a manner that is pained, empathetic, and, ultimately, hopeful.

Our students should see us look at suffering and be truly pained by it. The groaning we offer should be an expression of real longing for the fullness of the Kingdom to come and for Jesus to actually wipe away real tears. Because our tears are real, they are not theoretical. We confess the eternal King who entered into real suffering and offers real victory. We do not get one without the other. Our children need to see us groan in real pain and in real hope.

Our youth should also know that it is okay to be scared. They do not need to be consumed by fear (and we need to be clear with instructing them on best practices of safety and thoughtful behavior), but that doesn’t mean they won’t sometimes feel fear. We need to remember that we don’t get to tell people how to feel, especially our own kids. If they are willing to share how they feel, we must listen to them describe it and acknowledge that how they feel is valid. This week, teenagers were viciously murdered leaving a concert that your child might’ve been saving up babysitting money to attend. Evil is real. There is an enemy who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). Our teens have reason to be afraid.

They also have reason to hope.

In Christ, your children have been given a power and a love that is greater than fear. Like Paul exhorting young Timothy, you have the privilege and responsibility to encourage your child to fan into flame that faith in Jesus (2 Timothy 1:7). Yes, there is reason to be afraid, but there is reason to take heart. Reason to live in joy. Reason to still save that babysitting money for concerts. Reason to not live in fear, but to live in faith. It is nothing else but the promise that we belong to Jesus, body and soul. It is the promise that not a hair can fall from your child’s head without the sovereign will of the Lord.

Mere resolve stands no chance against fear. We need the very triune God; the Sovereign will of the Father, the Victory of the Son, and the present Comfort of the Spirit.

Last week I bought a car. In the typical salesperson/buyer banter, I was asked about my hometown. I told him I grew up in Paducah, Kentucky. The salesman immediately said, “Oh, I remember that town. They had the school shooting.”

Back in 1997 there was a school shooting of a prayer group at Heath High School. I did not attend the school where the shooting happened. I was a student at another school in the same county. But a number of my friends and family were at that school the day of the shooting. Three young girls died that day. The shooter was a freshman, like I was. I still remember the adult volunteers in our youth group the week of the shooting doing the very best they could to put words to the shock and pain unfolding in our city.

We were teenagers, and we needed adults who listened, who validated the feelings of fear and chaos. We needed adults who cared enough to give us time for long conversations, even if it meant sitting through long silence. I saw adults minister to friends of mine that were hurting so deeply, and the only thing that made those adults ready for the task at hand was the good news of King Jesus. He is our only hope, in life and in death.

Dr. Jeffrey Heine is Pastor of Teaching & Discipleship at Redeemer Community Church in Birmingham, AL. A graduate of Murray State University in Kentucky, Jeff went on to get his MDiv and DMin at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL. Jeff is married and has two girls.

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