I pretended not to care when I would see people whispering…

I pretended not to care when I was wide open and no one would pass the ball…

I pretended not to care when my dad was stumbling to walk after leaving my step mom and having to walk him to bed…

I pretended not to care when no one said “Happy Birthday”…

I pretended not to care when my dad lost his mind and made my whole family crash to pieces…

I pretended not to care after my grandpa said,”I’m letting go.” and then fired the gun right in front of my glazed, teary eyes…

I pretended not to care when I finally realized what cancer was and that my sister has it… 

I pretended not to care when I heard the words “Your brother is in jail.”…

I pretended not to care when my best friend committed suicide…

I asked my students to respond to a simple prompt.  “Take seven minutes and write as many sentences you can think of that begin with I pretended not to care when….” I couldn’t believe it when my students stood to share their writing that so many of them were experiencing such deep, painful hurts. These kids come from seemingly average, middle class families in suburbia Cherokee County, yet the collective experiences expressed by these 13 and 14 year olds showed the type of pain and suffering that could possibly take years of counseling to overcome.

The students who shared the writing above all seemed to wear a mask when they come to school.  Their masks made them seem like happy, carefree children, yet on the inside, their young lives were already weathered with hurt and suffering.  As someone who is in the position to work with at least 160 teenagers every day, a writing prompt like this is a sobering reminder that God has placed me in the role of a teacher for a specific reason.  Kids are walking around with the literal weight of the world on their shoulders, waiting for a caring adult to actually notice that they are hurting, even crying out for help.

In Mary Frances Bowley’s new book The White Umbrella, she describes the feeling these kids have by comparing it to someone who is standing in a rainstorm of confusing issues and life-paralyzing problems. Like the abuse victim mentioned in her book, so many teenagers today are waiting for an adult to stop their routine of busyness and actually notice that they are helplessly standing in this metaphorical rainstorm. Hurting teens need to see that adults are willing to lovingly cover them with an umbrella, helping them to gingerly navigate through the tempests of life.

How can we do this?

1. Stop – Take time out of your busy day to stop and pay attention to the teenagers who may be under your care.  Many are crying for help from an adult, but their cries are often undetectable because they may be manifested as bad behavior, rebellion, or even apathy. It takes someone who is willing to take the time to look past these behaviors to discern the truth of what might really be going on.

2. Listen – When teenagers talk to you, take the time to listen beyond just the words coming out of their mouth.  Don’t dismiss them as incompetent or silly.  Pay attention to what they are telling you and take it seriously.  They can see right through someone trying to patronize them.  If you truly listen, you may be able to form a relationship with that hurting young woman or young man who might lead to some much needed healing.

3. Love – Be a safe place for that teenager. Don’t write them off because of bad behavior, but instead chose to love them even when they may seem unlovable.  Middle schoolers and high schoolers are smart and perceptive; they are able easily read your motives.  Chose to love them even when it might be hard.

Who has God placed in your path that might be hiding the wounds of hurt and pain? Stand with them through the stormy crisis in their life!

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