What do these teens have in common?
Rebecca Sedwick, Bartlomiej Palosz, Adrian Alvaresz, Srijan Saha, and a Mount Anthony Union Middle School student.
These teens have all committed suicide recently, and most of them (if not all) took their life due to being bullied by their peers. These young lives can be added to the thousands of other teens who have committed suicide over the years, for various reasons and in various ways. However, the issue of bullying is a commonality in the majority of cases, especially those in recent years.
Suicide is the third largest cause of death among 15-24 year-olds.
Tragically, tomorrow, next month, and next year, more names will be added to grave stones. More families will be left picking up the pieces to their shattered lives. More questions will be asked; more doubt in faith will spring up; more anger at God will be experienced with great pain.
As youth workers, will we be standing in a posture of being proactive or reactive when suicide strikes our ministry, community, or even our families? Yes, no matter how prepared one is, suicide still knocks us off our feet in disbelief. However, it is my firm belief that this blow lessens by the steps we take in educating ourselves and others about the warning signs and preventions of suicide. Like so many other things in today’s environment, it is no longer a question of “if” suicide will strike our lives but one of “when.” We need to be prepared on all fronts, and one way of doing so is planting the gospel firmly within our students hearts, minds, and souls.
By the word “gospel,” I’m not talking about one particular fraction but the whole reality of the gospel, found in the Person of Jesus Christ. He is the firm definition of hope, freedom, life, pursuit, longing, et al, which are the very things teens are strenuously looking for today. Therefore, it is my conviction, that in order to combat the root issues of suicide and bullying, we need to go with our students beyond the surface of “Jesus loves you,” and into the depths of our identity and worth found in Christ alone. Although as youth workers we may realize this, I’m not convinced that today’s teenager believe this deep within. And maybe they don’t believe this because we don’t believe this ourselves. Or maybe we do believe this, but we wrongly assume our students do as well.
In either case, students are killing themselves, because in their minds, death is the only viable answer left to pursue. And this, we know, is a lie. So, what other answers are we providing for our students and their friends? Here are 6 answers I strive to teach students every chance I get:
You are made in the image of God, and nothing changes this.
No one is an accident, or a mistake from God. Every person has been created for a specific purpose, formed in God’s image, and from the overflow of the Father’s heart (Ge 1:26-27, Ps 139:13-14). Because God sees the worth of every person – a worth to love and die for, we should have the same compassion towards one another. However, too many people, especially students, see themselves as someone less than who God sees them as. These lies need to be uprooted and replaced by the Truths of scripture. God alone defines His creation; and no child of His has been made ‘more worthy’ than another (Ep 1:4-5, 2:10, James 2:1-13).
God’s unconditional love for you is greater than any sin you will commit (and have committed).
Two of the greatest promises of God are found in 1 John 3:1-3 and Romans 8:37-39. The Father’s love is secured over and in us by Christ, and no sin can cause that love to be retracted. When we encounter the power of Christ, our lives start anew – “the old has passed away.” Though we are a work in progress and struggles lay ahead, God’s constant love stretches from the beginning of time to the end, unchanged and unhindered. Through the work of Christ, the power of sin is broken, death has lost, and God’s love has won, allowing us to be His eternal sons and daughters (Gal 4:4-7).
Our identity and worth are wrapped around who Christ is, what He has done, and what He will do within our lives.
Going back to 1 John 3:1-3, we are children of God now – not later. As we enter into relationship with Christ, we enter into a place of sonship with the Father. As Christians, then, our identity is rooted in this truth, and not in our power and performance. The world defines us by what we do, while God defines us by what Christ has done. Therefore, because of God’s great love for us, because of His promises, the way’s of God become the desires of our heart (2 Cor 6:16-7:1). We are compelled to do this, not to earn God’s love and favor, but because of the love and favor God has already poured upon us through the Spirit (2 Cor 5:14-15). The transforming work Christ begins in us will continue on, and will even begin to influence those around us as we live life together.
We are a redeemed community, sent to live out the gospel in authentic community with others.
As the love of Christ compels us to live changed lives, so it compels us to be communities of reconciliation, redemption, and restoration (2 Cor 5:16-21). Whether that community is a youth ministry, para-church ministry, after-school program, or even a club during school, a leader determines the atmosphere of the place he or she leads. Therefore, as a leader, create your atmosphere upon a biblical foundation, and lead those under you to create similar foundations in school, at home, etc. Instill within your students the hard truth that Jesus calls us to love those whom we don’t understand or even like (Luke 6:27-36). We are called to be different in our actions, words, thoughts, and our presence (Col 3:1-17). As Christians, we represent Christ, because we’re followers of Christ. The mercy God has shown us, we are called to show others (James 2:13). The grace God has given us, we are called to give to others. His love towards us, becomes our love towards others (1 Cor 13).
We all stand upon the common ground of needing Jesus.
You can literally put every person into two groups of people: those who need to accept Jesus, and those who need to grow closer to Jesus. Simply put, we all need Jesus. This, then, is the solid ground every person stands upon, at the foot of the Cross. Here is where all relationships and ministries begin. Upon this ground, no one is above another, and no one is beyond the love of God. We are equal; saved by the awesome grace and mercy of Christ, who has torn down the walls of hostility and status (Eph 2:16).
The love of Jesus is greater than the lie of suicide, and the threat of being bullied.
Our message in this context is simple: the love of Jesus is better. As leaders, we must first embrace this deep truth ourselves. If not, our students will spot the lie. The love of Christ says we are worth more than any riches the world offers. The love of Christ declares that He chose us to be His, and nothing will change His mind about us. The love of Christ calls us to trust Him, and to lean upon Him, knowing that He will never leave us nor forsake us. The love of Christ leads us to live changed lives, and leads us to offer His hope to everyone around us. Compared to what Christ offers us, the threats of a bully are hollow. Together, we are more than conquers through Him who loves us.
We may never be able to eradicate suicide and bullying from our midst. However, we can definitely lower the number of funerals that occur because of suicide. As youth workers, this must be a fight we arise to, and a message we boldly proclaim. Our student ministries are more than a place to have fun; they are a starting place for global transformation.