Everyone hurts. Physically, mentally, spiritually. It’s a part of life. It’s not something that we get to be exempt from; we must all experience it. However, sharing it is never something we want someone to learn to do alone.
Let’s Start with the Bible…
Personally, my theology of hurt is built on a couple of key learnings from scripture:
- We must know that often it is the basic things that change the perspective of anyone.
- We must respond knowing that we can help but knowing our limitations.
- We can go through the worst and still delight in deliverance while we are still on our journey.
Elijah and the Basics
Let’s start at the bottom of Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs. The story of Elijah suggests that even the most basic things can make the biggest difference.
[Elijiah] finally sat down under a solitary broom bush. He longed for his own death: “It’s more than enough, Lord! Take my life because I’m no better than my ancestors.” He lay down and slept under the solitary broom bush.
Then suddenly a messenger tapped him and said to him, “Get up! Eat something!” Elijah opened his eyes and saw flatbread baked on glowing coals and a jar of water right by his head. He ate and drank, and then went back to sleep. The Lord’s messenger returned a second time and tapped him. “Get up!” the messenger said. “Eat something, because you have a difficult road ahead of you.” Elijah got up, ate and drank, and went refreshed by that food for forty days and nights until he arrived at Horeb, God’s mountain. There he went into a cave and spent the night.
The Lord’s word came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”1 Kings 19
Elijah complained. He was struggling. He needed the basics. With students, this is often seen as basic forms of love: listening, small gifts, words of encouragement. Sometimes it’s more, but mostly it is meeting the basic need of knowing they are loved without doing anything to deserve it. I have written letters to students out of the blue, dropped bundlets, and invited them to coffee. I have sat in a driveway, sent videos of fuzzy mini cows, and watched TikToks. I have sent gifs. I have even dropped off bottled water because a student forgot that morning and they knew their parents wouldn’t have time. We can meet the basic needs and thus help meet the bigger needs.
The Good Samaritan and Limits
The second place we’d like to ground is on our limits as youth pastors, and we take this learning from Jesus himself. We in this story normally focus on what the Good Samaritan does, but this time focus on what the Good Samaritan delegates to others.
“A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”
Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”Luke 10:25-37
The Good Samaritan helps, he intervenes when he finds a person in trouble, but part of his helping is him bringing him to others who could provide him care that the Samaritan could not. As youth pastors, we must first recognize our limitations. We must realize that we are not the Innkeeper, but we are responsible for getting our students, their parents, and anyone else to safety. We do not know how to care long term, but we know when someone is hurting and we must know how to respond and have an action plan (if you don’t have one, we recommend reaching out to WYM leader Rev. Chelsea Peddecord’s compendium on youth ministry pastoral care).
Miriam and Joy
Miriam is the sister of Aaron, and was one of the leaders of the Exodus movement of the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt. After crossing the Red/Reed Sea, Miriam leads the people of Israel in a song:
Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand. All the women followed her playing tambourines and dancing. Miriam sang the refrain back to them:
Sing to the Lord, for an overflowing victory!Exodus 15:20-21
We must be like Miriam. Miriam saw people experiencing pain. She saw a need to rise up, to enact equity and to be a voice for justice. Her brother may have been the focal point, but she did the work on the ground. I know she listened to the stories of the people around her. She then inspired, offered rejoicing on their way out of Egypt, singing and collecting other women to join in. Sometimes, our pastoral care will look like reminding students of what they’ve faced and how strong they are, that they have done hard things and will continue to do hard things. We are the prophets in their lives reminding them that they will overcome and that they have overcome.
All three of these pieces often work in tandem, beginning with meeting needs, shifting to advising for therapy, and finally rejoicing and reminding. Sometimes it all hits with the student at the same time.
Three Additional Anchors for Helping:
First, in psychology, there is “learned helplessness” – where someone is subjected to circumstances for which they end up feeling they cannot escape. And even if escape is offered at some point, they do not accept that option. There are a lot of moments teenagers, and even younger children, experience this. It shapes who they are, and we cannot know where these things exist within their story, but we have to be aware of it and know that sometimes when we step in and hold space, it is their time to see the alternate route.
Second, a student with a healthy relationship with their parents will be more inclined to retain and practice the faith of their parents. However, if they do not have a healthy relationship, our work is a different work and, especially if their parents are members, possibly a harder work to reunite them into a healthy relationship with parental figures.
Third, every person we meet would benefit from therapy. I do not say that as some joke, but as an admittance that, as per Rev. Chelsea Peddecord, we are the Good Samaritan helping people get the care they need, not doing all the care work. We are to know the connections, make them, perhaps follow up, but we are not the care workers they need long term.
Finally, you must meet your own needs.
You cannot support the basics of others without addressing yourself. You cannot give spiritual direction or pastoral care for others if you aren’t receiving that already. I see a therapist once a month minimum to make sure I am not carrying the weight of students with me. I see a spiritual director once a month to make sure I am seeing God in action. I keep a schedule of personal time to ensure that I have time to be healthy. We cannot care for young people well without caring for ourselves. Young people are worthy of the investment we pour into them, and you are worthy of the investment you pour into yourself.