Whether they’re facing the loss of a friend or family member, disappointment in school, social frustrations, or changes of any kind, teens need moral support from the trusted adults in their lives. So often we give them what they don’t need or what won’t help them, but that’s the topic of another post. In their unique physiological situation, teens can be more vulnerable to getting wrapped up in their own world and the strong emotions that surface during difficulties. As we minister to teens where they are, though, we need to show compassion while pointing them to Christ.
Empathizing with Uncomfortable Emotions
What is empathy? It’s different from sympathy — deeper, more involved. Dictionary.com puts it this way: “empathy denotes a deep emotional understanding of another’s feelings or problems.” When a teen in your life is struggling, listen to what’s going on. Once you can identify the category of difficulty — uncertainty, disappointment, humiliation, loss — you can certainly recall a personal experience in which you have faced a similar hardship. As you let yourself enter into those feelings and struggles, you will be able to show compassion and truly fulfill the expectations of Romans 12:15 and Galatians 6:2.
Providing Mature and Biblical Perspectives
While offering instruction and guidance without empathy will almost never come across well, once you’ve communicated your love through listening and responding with empathy, you’ll be in a position to offer a biblical perspective, applying God’s truth to the situation, as Ephesians 4:15 instructs us to do. 1 Peter 4:12-19 and Hebrews 11 are encouraging passages that point us to eternal realities, and when we focus on our own spiritual maturity and a tear-free heavenly home, today’s pains can seem less poignant.
While Hebrews 12:6 clearly states that some hard times come with God’s chastening hand, passages like 1 Peter 4:19 say that God also promises suffering to those who follow Him. (In fact, Pastor John MacArthur in his book Found: God’s Will makes a pretty good case for the fact that anyone in God’s Will will endure some kind of suffering.) Helping your teen evaluate God’s purpose in their suffering can be key to promoting spiritual growth through this trial.
Encouraging Productive Coping Strategies
Even with an empathetic trusted adult and a Scriptural perspective, hard times do not elicit a lighthearted response. As uncomfortable as it is to see someone you love grieve, teens need support and guidance through the grieving process. Squelching healthy responses like discussing feelings or crying can be damaging, but so can lengthy periods of withdrawing, attempts to self-harm, or angry outbursts. Helping teens find a balance between ignoring pain and coping in healthy ways requires that we’ve found that balance in our own lives — or at least are growing toward that.
As we guide teens through their own personal journeys, hard times are part of the deal. Through lovingly modeling and instructing them during these times, we can strengthen our relationships with them and encourage them in their walk of faith.