When It’s More Than We Can Handle

Parents often come to youth ministers when they are at the end of their ropes and have tried everything to help their children.  Since Rooted is aiming to answer real questions on issues that youth workers are facing everyday, this series will publish articles on how to answer parents who ask, “What do I do with my child?”

Having been a parent for more than six years now, I’m learning that parenting is an exercise in humility.  Every parent I’ve met has felt overwhelmed at one point or another, so it’s no surprise that parents often express concern about their children with their youth pastor.

Sometimes what they tell us is deeply troubling.

It might be that they’ve stumbled upon a disturbing truth:  their child is self-cutting or has been sexually abused, or they discover drugs in their room.

Maybe one of the youth is acting out in school or at home because their parents are separating, because they have recently changed schools, or because a friend has died.

I’ve also seen the way parents stress over their child being socially awkward, their kid losing interest in school, or their child starting to sink into a deep depression.

When a parent comes to me with any sort of concern, there are always three things that I try to do:

1. Listen.

When it feels like their world is falling apart, the parents need to know that we are there for them as well as their child.   Listening is a key part of this.  It’s also essential to listen to the parent so that we can get a better picture of what’s going on.

2. Pray.

Not only does God work through prayer, but prayer also helps to remind the parents (and us) that we are not alone.  God is with us in this situation.

3. Give hope.

When parents are at their wit’s end, I like to point them to Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  God is at work, and our God is a God who redeems and reconciles.

Occasionally, though, the problem requires more than we can handle.  When this happens, there is a fourth thing we should do:

4. Get help.

Sometimes the best thing we can do beyond listening, praying, and giving hope is encouraging parents to get help from a professional who is better equipped to deal with the issue at hand.

Certainly I can meet with, pray for, and disciple a kid who is socially awkward.  But if their awkwardness stems from a cognitive deficit or a neurological disorder, referring their parents to a psychologist is a good idea.

Certainly I can meet with, pray for, and disciple a kid who is depressed, suicidal, or has an eating disorder.  But that child also needs to see a medical professional who can properly diagnose and treat their condition as medically needed.

Of course I can meet with, pray for, and disciple a kid who isn’t dealing well with a major life-change.  But it also might be a good idea for them to meet with someone more experienced and formally educated to provide the child with skills to deal with their specific circumstances.

We often feel like we should have all the answers, but the truth is that we don’t.  And that’s okay. Shepherds call in a veterinarian when their sheep need specialized help – that makes them a good shepherd, not a failure.  We can do the same.

Actually, sometimes the best thing we can do for an overwhelmed parent is to acknowledge that this issue is also more than we can handle on our own, and then connect them with a professional.

Then, as before, we continue to listen, pray and give hope.  God is with us, and God is at work.

Mark Howard was a youth pastor for five years before joining Elam Ministries, an organization that seeks to strengthen and expand the church in Iran and surrounding areas. Through Elam, he's had the opportunity to work with Iranian youth as well as talk with American churches about God's work in Iran. Mark has his M.A. in Theological Studies from Wheaton College Graduate School and serves on Rooted's steering committee.

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