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First Word - November 2017

Life seems harder than ever for our children and young people. Bullying continues beyond the school gate, pornography is available at the click of a button and, once they leave school, there is zero guarantee of employment.

Tragically, anxiety levels are on the rise among young people and mental health problems in children are becoming increasingly common. 

When tragedy strikes, exams are sat or the transition from primary to secondary school is looming, we expect our children and young people to experience anxiety. However, we will probably all encounter children whose anxious thoughts seem to dominate their day-to-day lives and cripple their ability to function. In ‘Cast your cares’, Liz Edge looks at some of the ways we can support these emotionally vulnerable young people, as well as suggesting how to create safe spaces within our groups to explore these important topics.

We also spoke to Katharine Welby-Roberts about her battle with depression. She urges us to journey with children and young people experiencing similar struggles, acknowledging the long-term nature of their illnesses. Katharine points us to Jesus’ life, reminding us that we were never promised a suffering-free life, but a God who loves us and is with us, and a counsellor who comforts us. 

Sometimes life is way harder than it’s meant to be. Sometimes it’s downright impossible. 

In the last few weeks I have lost two dear friends. Both leave behind thriving ministries, heartbroken families and confused congregations. Why would God let these heroes of the faith die? How can their loved ones reconcile their overwhelming pain with their knowledge of a loving God? Who is going to take over their incredible gospel work? 

I’d love to protect our children and young people from similarly agonising situations but sadly I can’t.

While we need to point our children to the God of comfort and remind them of his unshakable truths, we also need to look after our own emotional health. 

For their sake as well as ours. The best thing you can offer your children and young people is a healthy you. So why not take some time out this week to sit with a coffee and reflect on Gerard Kelly’s ‘Recharge’? He invites us to think about ‘lament’, reminding us that the Old Testament is saturated with it. Gerard urges us to trust God in the waiting and to join with the Holy Spirit to shape our desperate cries into prayers. 

We all know that twee Christian platitudes fall on deaf ears when hearts have been irrevocably broken. We don’t necessarily need answers to our wailing questions. What we need is someone to hold us mid-sob. Our faith centres on the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus. John 1:14 reminds us that our God didn’t stay distant, but came to meet us in the mess. In Jesus, God wept, God suffered and, ultimately, God died. But that’s not the end of the story. Without the resurrection, the cross would just be tragic. But through it we are brought the most beautiful new life, not just now but forever. As Revelation 21:3 promises us, God himself will wipe away the tears of our young people. He will restore the broken parts of our lives.

In the meantime, we need to learn to live with the tension of palpable agony and the future promise of restoration. If we can’t protect our children from suffering, we must help prepare them to live with it. My favourite Bible verse is in Isaiah 49. Following a heartfelt cry from Israel about being forgotten and abandoned, God replies with these profound words: “Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you. See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands. Always in my mind is a picture of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins.” Even when we and our young people are in ruins, God sees us. Christianity may not give us a perfect answer to the problem of suffering, but it does give us a person; a God who joins us in the mess and holds us in our pain. 

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