If someone had told me a few years ago that my husband would be working in student ministry now, I would have thought they had been smoking something. But we have found that watching kids grow and become and answer the call of God upon their lives is truly a blessing, and it is reassuring to those of us who are just a bit older… When you have worked in ministry as long as Matthew and I have, you kind of hope all you have worked for won’t go to hell in a hand basket once you pass the ministry baton off to the younger crowd.
There is a part of student ministry that is not so exciting, though. It is never a joyful day when a young person loses their life in a tragic accident, to a horrible illness, or from suicide. It’s those days when you can lose the wind in your sails. That’s just not the way we want to see things turn out for the kids coming along in the next generation. We hope for them to be strong- physically, mentally, and spiritually. Sometimes that’s just not the case though, and that’s when we have to dig in and have those hard conversations, and face the harsh realities.
Losing a young person is hard to face, but I think the hardest situation to deal with in student ministry is when a young person decides to take their own life. Growing up is hard. It was hard when I was a kid, and it’s much harder now, in many ways. The world is spinning out of control, the family is breaking apart and as a result, the very fabric of life is unraveling. It’s hard for kids these days to find direction. It’s difficult for them to grasp hold of anything constant and sure. What used to be black and white is fading into shades of grey. Where kids used to be able to find firm footing, they are trying to stand on shifting sands.
The Bible tells us in Philippians 4:8,
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Sometimes for kids, deciding what these things are is hard. The world, and our enemy who rules it, blurs the things that Paul was referring to in verse eight. What is noble these days? What is right?
And what about purity? What does that even mean anymore? In a world where these lines have been muddied, it’s hard for a grown person to know, much less a young person just starting out in the world.
Paul warned us about allowing impure thoughts to come into our minds. He knew that our enemy, the devil, does his best work in our minds. If he can convince us to believe a lie, then he has the beginning of a stronghold and the genesis of a warped belief system.
My seventeen-year-old daughter came into our bedroom last night to tell us about a young man attending our church that she knew that had taken his life yesterday. It was not someone she knew especially well, but someone she had had the opportunity to cross paths with, even just that morning at church. The reality of the finality of death was overtaking her. Thoughts of her interactions with this young man played in her mind.
I knew all too well the thoughts in her mind.
The same thing happened when I was her age to a young man I had known. When I heard he had taken his life, my thoughts ran quickly to my interactions with him. Had I been nice to him? Yes. Sometimes. Had I ignored him, or snubbed him at times? Were there opportunities that I had missed to show him a kindness? Most certainly. I couldn’t help but wonder what I had done to contribute to the great sadness that led him to take his life. I knew those thoughts were also running through my daughter’s mind about the boy she had known.
That’s the great cruelty of suicide. The unanswered questions. The “what ifs” that come to those left behind who try to make sense of a senseless situation. Most of us can’t understand suicide because of the innate survival instinct woven into all of us. Should the building you are sitting in suddenly catch fire, you will not sit and continue reading this article; you will jump and run to safety. You will try to warn others to run as well. We are hardwired to preserve our lives and the lives of others.
It is only when the enemy gets inside our heads and begins to do his work in our thought life that we ever consider doing the opposite. It is his job to kill, steal, and destroy. (John 10:10) His greatest victory is in taking from us every good and perfect gift our heavenly Father has ever given us. If he can destroy the notion that we are valuable, and valued beyond measure by our heavenly Father, if he can steal our joy, and kill the passion God has placed in our hearts to fulfill the calling on our lives, then he can convince us we are better off dead.
Lies. It’s all lies.
As guardians of our minds, we have to learn from Paul, to take every thought captive. (2 Corinthians 10:5) Just because we think a thought doesn’t make it true. Some of the thoughts that run through our heads are lies. We have to grab them and hold them up to the truth of Christ. We are supposed to make them obedient to his teachings. If a thought falls in line with the truth of scripture, then we hold onto it. If not, out it goes!
In a world where the lines are blurred, and nothing is sure, we have to teach our kids to turn to the word of God to lead them. We have to surround them with strong, mature, believers who can hold them accountable, remind them whose they are, and help them find their way through the greys in this world. They need a firm place to stand. It’s up to us to show them.
My heart goes out to the family of the young man that was lost yesterday. I am sure there is nothing worse for a parent than to lose a child in such a way. I also am saddened by the young people who are struggling with unanswered questions in their own minds this day. And yet I am certain that the student ministry team is working to minister to the lives of all who suffer today and my prayers are for their strength and perseverance. This race is not easy, but it’s rewards are guaranteed, and this is part of what they are called to do.
We will mourn, but not as those who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)