Crying in Public: How to Be Honest about Tragedy
Karen Blixen, who wrote under multiple pseudonyms, penned the quote,
“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.”
If I have ever read an absolutely poignant quote about youth leadership, this would be it. Long rides on charter buses, late nights on retreats, and loving dedication at the cost of everything – youth leaders give it all for the sake of their youth. Each moment spent with them melts those youth into your everyday thoughts, prayers, and life. However, if you have served for anything over thirty days, you know that ministry is like the old Maze lyrics,
“Where there’s a flower there’s the sun and the rain – Oh and it’s wonderful they’re both one in the same”.
The fruit of your ministry is the result of good and bad days.
The apostle Paul puts it this way,
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28)
In my initial years of ministry, I became very close to a set of twins – a brother and sister. I was at their first days of high school, I saw them through ups and downs in their family, traveled with them, ate at their home, taught them how to drive, and even witnessed them graduate valedictorian and salutatorian of their high school.
Two years into their college years, tragedy struck. While the twin brother was driving to his university with his twin sister and mother in the vehicle, something occurred causing the vehicle to flip multiple times and eject them onto the side of the highway. The mom sustained minor injuries but the twins were severely hurt.
I remember hearing the news and immediately making the road trip to see them in the hospital. I hated seeing those two with tubes and monitors and such connected to them. I knew prayer worked but I was also very afraid. The following Sunday, I explained to the youth membership how tragic the accident was while keeping a straight face and forcing a smile. All the while, my heart was hurting and full of fear.
I assumed the kids needed to see their leader as a pillar of strength not a pile of emotion.
The twins stayed in the hospital a while. While the health of one progressed, unfortunately, the other twin’s health deteriorated and she ultimately died. The news of her death hit me like a Mike Tyson upper cut. At the funeral, I reminded myself that the teens needed to see a strong leader. But, God reminded me that strength is transparency.
Before I spoke to a sanctuary filled with tearful teenagers and loving family members, I wept openly.
“Then Jesus wept. The people who were standing nearby said, ‘See how much he loved him!’’’ (John 11:35,36 NLT)
Our youth grow from what we teach as well as how we live. I can only imagine the thoughts Jesus had as He traveled to meet his dying friend. This wasn’t just any individual. He was like family. Our ministry kids are like family. The tonnage of Jesus’ thoughts, memories, and decisions weighed more than the residual sand carried from each step pressed into His journey. Jesus arrives and already knows – His friend Lazarus is dead. Does Jesus hold back the tears? Does He smear on a smile as He approaches the grave? Or does He choose to visibly display His inner emotions? Jesus wept.
I am challenging every youth leader to consider the transparency and patience of Jesus.
The youth need to know that it is ok to cry. It is ok to be hurt, angry, frustrated, or even uncertain how to feel. Just don’t sin (Ephesians 4:26). When we are transparent we subsequently affirm them to be transparent about their emotions during tragedy and that’s when healing begins. When your students experience tragedy, allow them to explain exactly how they feel without judgment. This isn’t your time to criticize, it is your turn to care. After they have admitted all of their feelings, strategically walk them through scripture for personal healing, emotional stability, and positive choices. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Matthew 11:28
- John 9:1-3
- Romans 8:38
- Romans 8:18
- Philippians 4:6-7
William Cumby is the Minister of Youth for THE FOUNTAIN OF PRAISE, in southwest Houston, Texas and has served in youth ministry for over 12 years. He is a proud husband and dad to three children, graduate of the DEVOS URBAN LEADERSHIP INITIATIVE, and a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Oral Roberts University.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.