So when tragedy hits our small community, it often hits hard. A young man, just 15 years old, took his own life just a few days ago. And, as if that fact wasn't tragic enough, it seems that bullying directly precipitated this tragedy, as footage of the bullying act was posted and went viral.
This has especially affected the Oelschlager family as we were afforded a small window into this young man's life. His best friend used to live across the street from us. Both were avid basketball players. And as a dear family had recently donated to us a basketball goal, they were over in our driveway a lot playing with Mason, Gage, and myself. The young man of whom I speak was especially and unusually kind, for a 15 year old male, to our boys. He would remember their names and even shoot hoops with them while I had to work on something in my adjacent office. We saw him last this past December at a basketball clinic. He bent down on one knee to say hi to Gage, whom he always called "Gabe" (understandably). Tears were shed, young questions were asked, & prayers were prayed at the Oelschlager dinner table this past Tuesday.
One of the local schools asked me to come in today to assist some particular students through grief counseling. There is never a time, even for a so-called "trained" pastor, when this is not a daunting challenge. But God's Spirit was sweetly present and ever gracious as I met back-to-back-to-back with a handful of young men.
Here's what I wish to share with you: Helping someone who is hurting isn't rocket-science. Just a little preparation, a tentative plan, and I lot of reliance on God. That's what it took today. Allow me to walk you through:
Preparation. Pretty simple prep. Two things. First, I remembered that in the midst of suffering, the goal is to point the person toward the only God of human history (and only purported God of any major religion) who became human and opened himself up to the worst that human suffering had to offer. Point the person to the God who has suffered - Jesus Christ. Second, I called to mind and prayed one of Jesus' precious promises to his disciples: "When you are brought before synagogues, rulers, and authorities, do not worry how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say" (Luke 12:11-12). It's good to think through a couple things but even more so to remember that the Holy Spirit wants to use us in these pressure-packed moments as we rely on Him.
Tentative Plan meets Holy-Spirit-helped Execution. Here's a basic outline of how I handled the conversations with teenage boys most of whom I had never really met.
1. To the hurting person: (a) Share with me a little of how you knew this person; (b) what are some memories of him that stick out to you?
>> I find this allows the hurting person opportunity to affirm out-loud the value and impact of the person's life. That their life was not in vain.
>> This also helped me to share a little of my responses to these two questions.
2. Share a little yourself about valuing a life lost.
>> In this case, I had opportunity to share about how I valued the same person whom they loved.
>> Especially in cases where you might not know the hurting person very well, the Spirit can use this I think to help earn the person's trust. They know you care and have a certain genuine depth of feeling also.
3. To hurting person: (a) Describe for me some of the feelings you are feeling. (b) Have you spoken with anyone else about these feelings?
>> Affirm the health of doing so if and when they have spoken to others.
4. To hurting person: Everyone does something with their hurt, sadness or anger. Some bury it but it will cause them to harden, maybe become bitter. Some look for an escape: Perhaps partying; a hobby/activity/sport they can pour themselves into; or their work. What would you say are you doing with your hurt?
>> Bring Jesus into equation.
5. To hurting person: You know if you haven't or feel like you can't talk with anyone else about how you are feeling or what you want to do about it, you can always talk to God. Especially the God of the Bible. Can I tell you why? The God described in the Bible is the only God who claims to have come down from his lofty throne in heaven to earth and suffered the worst pains of being human. [I don't quote Scripture per say but give a few Bible facts in plain terms]
- He's a God who was born into a people defined historically not by power nor by royalty but by their suffering (Hebrews/Israelites/Jews).
- He's a God who was born into questionable circumstances - who's the father? (no human father, "illegitimate" birth).
- He's a God who was immediately born into an assassination attempt upon his life (see Herod's killing off of all children in Bethlehem Jesus' age - Matthew 2).
- He's a God who was betrayed by his friends, cursed by his enemies, and suffered the most painful and humiliating form of capital punishment known up to that point in history.
- None of that equaled the punishment of suffering He took on for us. The just punishment each of us deserves for living life his/her own way not God's way. That's why Jesus died on a cross - he died in our place, the death we deserved.
6. PRAYER: Would you mind if we talked to Him now?
>> In prayer, I keep pointing to the God of suffering - whether it's the need know & trust Him as the person in front of me suffers, the reality that He understands what other loved ones not present are going through, or the forgiveness He offers even to those who caused His suffering (should there be persons involved in the matter at hand who bear some degree of blame and, thus, need forgiveness).
7. To hurting person: Is there anything else you feel you need to say or get off your chest?
>> So often God uses the prayer to soften the person to the point where now they wish to offer something more that they need to express.
>> That certainly occurred today - and, through the prayer and the Holy Spirit urging me to follow-up with the above question, He may just have saved an angry young man from going down the path of becoming a bitter old man.
YOU too can be used by God to help someone who is hurting.