This month we are focusing on “Tough Talks.” We will be trying to give advice on some of the most difficult conversations to have(Divorce, Suicide, Teen-Pregnancy, Surgery). We as ministers might not have all the information, or know all the right things to say, but these conversations are ones that might happen during your time in ministry. Hopefully the next few weeks will give you something of a starting place. So today, we hope to start conversations that will spark ministers to share resources, ideas, and advice……
“Tough Talks: Talking to a youth with parents going through a divorce”
Josh Beeler is the Associate Pastor of Youth and College at Central Baptist Church of Fountain City in Knoxville, TN. He is a graduate of Old Dominion University and of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Josh is married to his wonderful wife, Sherry, who he enjoys sharing conversation, adventures, and life with. He is ridiculously playful and works daily to maintain his mischievousness. Josh enjoys playing, singing, reading, questioning and laughing with friends.
The Church and the world around it continue to learn more and more each year about the weight that divorce places on the lives of students in the middle of it. And while there still may be some out there who say that divorce can actually be good for the husband and wife, pretty much everyone agrees that the split for the kids just plain stinks. Children from divorce are much more likely to relate poorly to the opposite sex, as well as much more likely to experience serious marital strife themselves. It is serious business in the lives of our youth ministries, and we need to know how to deal with. Here are a couple of thoughts on talking to teens:
- Give Them Support. The significance of having someone available to talk to them who has been through this cannot be overstated. Whether it’s a peer or a leader, in the matter of going through parents’ divorcing, having someone to relate to you and to talk with who’s been there is incredibly significant. Whether it’s you or not, make sure you know who these people are so that they can be there for teens as they go through this. In the same way, make sure that you are fostering a youth group and community that embody a culture of loving and caring for each other. Make sure that a student who is walking through this knows that they are never alone. They have shoulders to cry on. They have friends to spend life with. They have safe places to go when situations at home or in their hearts get tough. Make sure that there are multiple people around these students simply being the presence of Christ.
- Learn to Gauge Where They are in the Healing Process. Some students will simply need to be comforted. Offer them attentive ears and words of compassion instead of suggestions on how to make things all better. And as much as possible, assure them that this is not their fault. Some students will be at a place where they need practical suggestions on how to deal with the hassle of sleeping at two different places, or the burden of being stuck between two arguing parents, or the struggle of meeting a new boyfriend or girlfriend for the first time. If this is the case, be willing to sit with them, to talk through options with them, to know where to find resources for their questions, or to have people who have lived through it ready to offer suggestions. And in really advanced situations, some students will have deeper spiritual concerns and needs: they might need to talk about learning to offer forgiveness to a parent, or may have questions about how they can avoid going through similar experiences in their relationships. Be prepared to help them embody godly forgiveness, or to develop healthy mindsets and expectations in their relationships with the opposite sex.
- Remind them of God’s Presence. In his book, My Parents Got a Divorce, Gary Sprague offers a collection of letters written by students who are going through divorce. A couple of the voices that stand out to me read like this: “God is watching us in heaven and He’s kind of sad.” (Covington, age 6) “At first I forgot about God. My dad said he was going to live somewhere else. I was shocked. I didn’t really think about God. I thought more about my pain and the hurt I was going through. After a while I saw how much pain my mom was going through. Even though I forgot about God, He didn’t forget about me. He helped me get through the divorce.” (Hannah, age 10). Every student will have a different response toward God in the midst of this struggle. Some will cling to God like never before, and others will blame God primarily. Whatever perspective your student embodies, walk lovingly with them as a representative of God’s love in all situations. Let them know that they are not wrong to feel however it is that they do—we all cope differently. But as much as the opportunity arises, remind them of the good news of the gospel: that no matter what is they are going through, God is with them (in sadness and joy) and nothing will separate them from God’s love. (Psalm 23 & Romans 8:38-39).