This has been another challenging fall, as we’ve seen our plans shift again! With new restrictions and guidelines imposed, it’s hard to stay caught up and on top of what we need to know. This is disappointing and discouraging, and many of us have had to abandon plans we spent months developing. We’re tired, and this new round of losses seems particularly deflating.
In response to this, we want to provide space so that we can acknowledge our reality, pay attention to our discouragement, and remind one another that God has not abandoned his people. God is still calling us, and preparing us, to come alongside young people and their families.
God is not finished with you yet, and His presence will guide us through this season.
Over the next few weeks, you’re invited to follow CBAC Youth & Family as we journey together from lament towards innovation. Through spiritual practices and team-building activities, we want you to acknowledge this present moment, but also lead with your teams to dream about what God is calling you to do in this season. There continue to be plans and goals that we need to release.
And it’s okay to miss them and grieve the loss of plans and opportunities where we had hoped to connect with our people.
Before we go into the future though, let’s take space for this moment. Through Scripture, we have inherited a long tradition of lament. But we haven’t done a great job at paying attention to it. Our songs are often celebratory and upbeat, and usually miss out on the practice of lament. We want our people to leave our gatherings feeling good and inspired, but that’s not always our reality. Whether it’s the loss of life or relationships, grief is a real part of human existence. We’re often wondering where God is and what he’s up to. Soong-Chan Rah reminds us that “lament in the Bible is a liturgical response to the reality of suffering and engages God in the context of pain and trouble” (Prophetic Lament). Lament points us to the hope that God will respond.
The book of Lamentations is a people’s response to the uncertainty and chaos of their times. Some of the people of Judah had been uprooted from their homeland; their political system was destroyed. Their temple was torn down, and they were experiencing the loss of familiar patterns of worship and gathering. They were living in the rubble of their city and society. They were wondering if God had abandoned them; if they would ever experience his nearness again. It was a complete destruction of their society, and all they could see was chaos.
And so out of that chaos, the prophet Jeremiah begins to write his songs of lament. He takes a familiar structure, the alphabet, and uses it to express his heartache, his despair. Every verse in Lamentations begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Out of the chaos of his life, the order of the alphabet reminds him of God’s greater work. It provides structure to the hope of God’s ongoing presence and activity.
In this initial segment of our series, we’re inviting you into a practice that will help you acknowledge the moment, and is an exercise you can use by yourself, or with your youth, your leaders, and even the children in your ministries.
It’s developed from the book Helping Youth Grieve, where the author Bob Yoder develops a three-step, six-minute exercise to write our own prayers of lament.
Step One – Be Angry with God
Take two minutes to give yourself permission to get mad at God. Pour out all your raw emotions onto the page – no matter how messy! What are your frustrated by? What losses are you experiencing? How do you feel?
Step Two – Reflect on God’s Goodness
Next, remember God’s goodness. Recall times in your own story when God heard your cry and helped you when you needed it most. Pay attention to those moments of God’s faithfulness.
Step Three – Turn to Praise
In the final two minutes, take some time to praise God as you remember that you can trust Him with your life, and respond with thanksgiving! Write out your lines of praise and hope.
This exercise of writing your own prayers of lament will assist you in processing recent losses, while also developing a foundation in your ministry where you, your leaders, and students are encouraged to take all your emotions to God.
Incorporating practices of lament into our youth communities will be significant as we accompany students in their grief. By acknowledging our present reality, and resting in the moment, it prepares us to notice new opportunities that God has for us in this season.
As he processed calamitous events, the prophet Isaiah (43:18-19) wrote:
Do not remember the past events,
Pay no attention to things of old.
Look, I am about to do something new;
Even now it’s coming.
Do you not see it?
Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert.
As we continue to move through this series, we’re looking forward to dreaming about the new things that God may have in store for us. Our models are changing, but our calling is the same. We are called to be “ministers of the gospel that stands near the concrete humanity of young people, sharing in their experience, helping them wrestle with God’s action in and through their concrete lives” (Andrew Root, Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker). May we continue to stand in solidarity with one another, while standing near our young people.
For more reflections on grief and loss, visit the blog series at Canadian Youth Worker, beginning with the post, “What is Grief?” (https://www.youthworker.community/what-is-grief/).