Every year on the 20th March, millions of people gather around the globe to celebrate the United Nation’s “International Day of Happiness”. Colourful balloons, innovative face painting, up tempo music and mouth watering sweet treats are just some of the things used by organisers to help participants “reclaim happiness”. Yet what lies beneath the pearly white smiles?
Whilst it is important to take time out to celebrate all things H-A-P-P-Y, you and I both know that it is impossible to constantly be on the mountain top of happiness. As humans, we have been born with the capacity to experience a variety of emotions such as, joy, pain, anger and love. We live in a broken and fallen world and at times we walk through deep, dark cavernous valleys of sorrow as a result of something that is happening or has occurred in our life.
Young people in the UK are not immune from walking these paths of despair either. As a programme worker for a Christian youth charity, it is not unusual in my job to meet young people who are struggling with difficulties such as bereavement, a change in family circumstances, addiction, mental health, eating disorders and self harm. Sadly the list goes on. Amidst the struggles, disappointments, and darkness many of us ask the question “Where is God when it hurts?”
How can we help young people in their suffering?
To address this question it is helpful to look to the Bible, to God’s truth,and to focus on the life of Jesus. When Jesus was on earth He spent lots of time with people who were sick, those who were excluded and even people whom others looked down upon. Jesus cared for them and showed them compassion, but even Jesus went through difficult times.
What does this passage reveal to us about Jesus?
- One of Jesus’ closest friends is about to go behind His back and trade Him in to a dangerous group of people who were planning on destroying his life.
- Jesus is in a really difficult situation; He knows that He is facing death.
- He takes his closest friends with him into the garden, tells them to keep watch so that He can pray to His Father. He asks God to take the suffering away from Him. Other passages in the Bible detail how Jesus sweated drops of blood, a condition that can occur when someone is going through extreme stress.
Do any of the young people you work with know what this feels like; to be in a painful situation where there appears to be no way out? How can this passage help us care for young people who are suffering?
1) It reminds us that God is in their suffering with them, if they want Him to be. Here we see God’s perfect and pure Son experiencing suffering and difficulty. It tells us that it is OK for young people to feel overwhelmed by things in life. Even Jesus did. It does not make them weak. It is not a sin for them to feel this way, because Jesus who was fully perfect felt like this. Whatever difficulty young people are facing, Jesus knows exactly what they are going through. Jesus knows what it is like to be in pain, in difficulty and to suffer. It is up to us to show them that they are not alone in their suffering, Jesus wants to journey with them in their darkest moments.
2) We also see that God helps in young people’s suffering by working through other people. Jesus shows that it is good to talk to others about our difficulties. Jesus asked his closest friends to come with Him into the garden where he revealed to them how upset and overwhelmed He was. He did not show this to all His friends, just His two closest. He was honest with them; He did not have to pretend that everything was fine! Are we available to young people for them to talk about their various struggles and difficulties? How can we assist them to seek further help? Are we willing to carry their pain with them? They may not notice a change in their situation, but they will notice that someone is practically helping and praying for them.
3) It is also important to keep trusting God through this journey with young person. In the passage Jesus begs God to take the pain away from Him. However, Jesus understood that God knew the bigger picture, and as a result He handed over all His trust to Him. In life we only see a small section of the picture. Jesus went on to suffer on the cross and die, but the bigger picture was the life transforming resurrection. When young people choose to share all of their life with Jesus then they too can know Him and the best life possible here on earth and later in heaven. Jesus trusted that His Father knew best and that there was a bigger picture. This encourages us to do the same. Sometimes God does not take painful situations away, but He can bring something good out of it such as unconditional love, compassionate forgiveness, and restorative comfort.
So how can we help young people in their suffering?
- Gently reassure them that they are not alone. Our God, who knows what it is like to suffer, wants to walk alongside them in their difficulty.
- Share their load with them, being available to journey with them in their pain and helping them seek further necessary assistance.
- Recognise that there is a bigger picture. God yearns for young people to seek Him so that He can give a crown of beauty instead of ashes. A crown of comfort and hope, instead of mourning.
When young people we know encounter Jesus in their lives, the difficulties they are facing may or may not change. However, they will feel the difference knowing they are not alone, God is with them, and so are you! As their youth worker, you may not be able to fix their problem but you are needed by the young person to direct them to the help they need, to cover them in prayer, to support and encourage them and to gently help them carry their pain to the foot of the Cross.
Katherine Dickson is a Programme Worker for The Big House Ireland. The Big House exists to help young people know God's love as they encounter Jesus and are cared for by the church, especially when they are dealing with difficult issues or circumstances. For more information please visit www.thebighouse.org.uk