One of the hardest conversations I’ve had was with a student who attempted to commit suicide. He was one of my favorite High Schoolers and it broke my heart to think that he could have been gone forever. As we sat there and talked with each other I did not know much to say to him, but just how to be there for him. The hardest part in all of this was for him to open up about something so hard that was happening in him.
We all have students that are dealing with something but have a deep fear of sharing it with anyone. Whether that is depression, porn addiction, sexual abuse, or hidden sin. These are hard issues to walk through with students, but there is a story in 1 Kings that provides some helpful steps that can be applied to anything our students are going through.
STEP 1: OPEN UP
1 Kings 19 shares about Elijah running from Queen Jezebel right after he had brought fire down from heaven and displayed the power of God. As he is fleeing for his life, he sits under a tree and says, “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died” (1 Kings 19:4). Elijah is at his lowest point. He sits under a tree and asks God to end his life. He is done. There is an important truth displayed in the middle of this:
WE MUST BE WILLING TO OPEN UP TO GOD AND TO OTHERS
No matter what our students are going through, the first step is always for them to open up about it. We must be willing to ask hard questions to our students to give them space, to be honest, and talk about what is happening in their lives. We cannot beat around the bush but should be straightforward as we help lead these young people to healing and freedom from any type of bondage that might be holding them captive. Once they open up then we can begin to lead them. Whether that is through our own wisdom or by sending them to someone more equipped, once the truth is out that the process can begin.
STEP 2: TAKE PRACTICAL STEPS
As the story continues, God’s response to Elijah is to lead him to sleep and eat. “Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree. But as he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told him, ‘Get up and eat!’ He looked around and there beside his head was some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water! So he ate and drank and lay down again” (1 Kings 19:5-6).
WE MUST LEAD OUR STUDENTS TO TAKE PRACTICAL STEPS
Oftentimes, when students are going through something, we should lead them through practical steps for help. I know many people who do not share steps with their students on how to flee sin because it sounds legalistic, but in reality, it is helpful and essential for them to grow in their faith. When a student is having sex with their girlfriend, we can lead them to set boundaries. When a student has depression, we can help connect them to a counselor. When a student is being abused, we should report the issue. When our students open up we can take practical steps that lead to real healing and real growth.
STEP 3: SILENCE + PRAYER
After his sleep and food, Elijah goes to a mountain. There is a big scene where a giant windstorm, an earthquake, and a fire all come, and the Lord is not in any of them. “And after the fire, there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave” (1 Kings 19:12b-13). God was not in any of these magnificent natural disasters, but he was in a small and gentle whisper. God is constantly found in the quiet and it is in those places that we realize that God is much closer than we think.
IT IS IN THE QUIET THAT WE HEAR GOD’S VOICE
As we lead our students and show them how God works in hard times it is important to teach them two things. First, teach them that we can notice God’s presence the most when we are free from distraction. Screen time will show you that students spend way too much time on their phones. When we are willing to put the phone down and turn off all the electronics, we can be free to listen to our own souls and the voice of God. We need encourage them to take distraction-free time with God.
Second, teach them that Jesus is always willing to join them in the mess, but He will often not take them out of it the way they desire. If a student gets pregnant and has no idea what to do, Jesus will not reverse time and make sure the sin never happened. Rather, He will join them in the mess, be present as they become a mother, and help them to be an example to their child. We beg for God to lift us out of our mess, but he often jumps in and joins us.
STEP 4: GET PEOPLE AROUND YOU
In the last part of the story Elijah tells God that he is the only one left, but God tells him otherwise and says that he will preserve 7,000 others (1 Kings 19:14-18). He shows Elijah that he is not alone.
WHEN WE KNOW WE ARE NOT ALONE WE FEEL SEEN AND KNOWN
The last thing we can do for our students is helping connect them with people who have gone through what they are going through. Someone that has made it to the other side. When a student who is addicted to drugs is introduced to the Pastor who was once a drug addict they are filled with hope. They are seen because that Pastor can relate to them and at the same time, they are hopeful because they know that if the Pastor made it, they can too. We must make sure students know that they are not alone.
As leaders, we must be prepared to lead students through any situation. We should be equipped to help them open up, take practical steps, to pray, and find others who have been through similar struggles. With all of this being said, the most important step here is for us as leaders to be the example. If we are not doing these things in our own life, we cannot expect students to. We must be willing to open up and take these steps with anything we may be struggling with as well. And as we do this, I hope that plenty of young people find healing and are able to bless others with these tools as well.
Xavier Salazar is the High School Pastor at Scottsdale Bible Church in Arizona.