“It’s not the end of the world” – praying with young people in times of crisis

In times of crisis, significant change or upheaval – personal, national or international – it can be hard to know how to give young people space to explore their feelings and reactions in the context of knowing God’s unchanging love. This is especially hard if we ourselves are struggling to make sense of events.

I originally wrote this session to use with a group of young people who had suffered several recent bereavements. I have since used it with young people in the context of local and national tragedies, and political events which they have found scary or overwhelming. Most recently I used it the day after the Brexit vote. I offer it now in case it is of use to those responding to young people in the wake of the US election, or more generally. 

As ever, feel free to use, share and adapt in whatever ways are helpful. 


 

Prayer:

Open in prayer. Always. Something brief: “Thank you God that we can bring everything before you. Help us to listen to one another and to you.”

You might like to light a candle as a sign of God’s presence.


Discussion:

Make sure everyone knows about the thing that has happened. They probably will, but if not, give the facts (and only the facts) as briefly as possible, without making anyone feel singled out for not knowing already.

Let everyone express their opinion. Try not to cut people off, but don’t let anyone dominate the conversation too much. Use whatever active listening skills you have. Remind the group of the importance of listening well to each other, and model that.

Gently challenge any ‘othering’ or de-humanising comments eg. “people who vote for X are all stupid”. Don’t directly contradict (“No they’re not.”). Nor is it necessarily a good idea to try to get people to see the other person’s point of view straight away (“Can you think why they might have voted that way?”) though that might be helpful later. Try an open question, such as “How do you think God sees X?” “What do you think Jesus would want to say to those people? And to us?”

Get people to think beyond the current situation: “Can you think of a time in the bible when people might have felt like this? Or in history?” If there is a time when you have felt like this before (eg. past elections/political events) briefly tell the young people about it. Remember, they don’t have that framework of experience to help them make sense of their current feelings.

Give space for people to express their feelings if they want to, both about the general situation, and how it has affected them personally, eg. conflict/disagreement with family members or friends.


Scripture:

Use one of the psalms of lament. I used Psalm 77, but others would also work well.

If your group is not already familiar with the psalms, briefly explain that they were the worship songs of their day, and that they express the full range of human emotions – because God wants to hear about it all.

Ask the young people to get into pairs/small groups and give each pair/group an envelope containing all the verses of the psalm, on separate slips of paper. Ask them to categorise them into positive statements, negative statements, and questions.

Discuss as a whole group. Explore which statements were perceived as positive or negative and why, and whether there are some that could be both. Ask questions about why the psalmist might have included positive and negative statements. Ask what role the questions play in the psalm. Ask where hope can be found in the psalm, and where it comes from.


Response:

Either in their pairs, or a as a whole group, ask the young people to write their own psalm about how they are feeling.

Remind them to use positive and negative statements, and questions, and also to include something that gives them hope.


Prayer:

As a group, read aloud the psalm you have been working with, and the psalm(s) the young people have written.

Allow a period of silence for reflection and prayer.

Invite the young people to take part in some symbolic action – lighting a candle, sticking a heart-shaped sticker on a map of the world, etc.

Say the Lord’s Prayer together.



This is a psalm written by one of my groups during this session:

1 God, why would you

Bring sorrow into our lives?

2 Everything is going against us,

Making us feel sad and depressed.

3 You are our mighty leader

Who leads us in your way.

4 We will love you with all our heart

Because your care is never-ending.

5 We remember how you saved the Israelites

From the cruel Pharaoh in Egypt.

6 You hold us forever

In the light of love.

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