Teaching Teens to Lament

Our initial reaction to teens needing to learn how to lament may be incredulity. What do teenagers need to lament about? What significant loss could they be experiencing that would benefit from deep processing and require healing? I agree that not all teens may be experiencing intense grief and loss that needs direct intervention. However, teaching people from a young age like their teens on how to lament can be valuable in their mental, emotional, and spiritual growth. Adolescence is the time when our emotions feel more intense and our brain is developing many new connections like how to respond to negative feelings. Teaching teens how to lament will give them a life-long framework on how to respond to grief and intense negative emotions rather than react with unhealthy forms of coping. We can start with the small moments of grief and help them practice, like disappointing performances in academics or sports, loss of a friendship or even a pet, or any sad news of something not turning out the way they had hoped. This lays down the groundwork to respond effectively when more intense emotions arise later in life. Here are several steps that can help them create a structure around lamenting based on the book of Psalms.

Don’t Bottle Up The Pain

When we look at laments in Psalms, we can see a consistent pattern in their songs. The first lines usually are cries out to God. They are an expression of the pain and grief the psalmist is experiencing. We do not necessarily need to express ourselves through vocal ways, but the key is to find some way to express ourselves openly and honestly rather than bottling it up inside. We may view this as complaining or venting, but it is important to make the distinction that this expression is not supposed to end after expressing what upsets us. We need to recognize and be honest about how it affects us: “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen on me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me” Psalm 55:4-5.

What Do I Need

Once we acknowledge the effect of the grief and loss, we must identify what we need. This part may take time. Some children may need more than others. In the Psalms, the songs are focused on the need for God and his deliverance. For us, we can definitely ask for God’s help, but we can also take time to figure out what it is we need for us to move on. Instead of wandering aimlessly waiting for an answer, it is important to identify what is it that needs to change or what we need to do. This can be the space we ask God to hold us while we navigate our difficult emotions.

Challenge The Doubts

While in our grief and pain, our mind and soul may experience enormous doubts and intense fears. The psalmists make it a point to recognize the steadfast character and ways of God to settle their doubts and fears. In counseling, we have given names for the different types of thoughts that twist our reality like overgeneralization, all-or-nothing thinking, catastrophizing, and  jumping to conclusions. Whatever the type of doubt, it is important to recognize the thoughts we have and remember the truth of the situation and move toward true healing.

Praise and Thankfulness

Lastly, laments end with a cry of praise and thankfulness for God and God’s goodness so far in their life. Even though the psalmist does not know how their immediate situation will resolve, they are thankful for how God has brought them through their past struggles. Teach teens that not everything may end neatly and completely resolved, and that it does not mean they cannot move on until it does. We do the best we can by identifying what we need and set a direction for ourselves. When we reflect on what we are thankful for, we instill in ourselves hope and confidence on the path we have chosen. We have made it through before, and we will make it through again.

Walking teens through this process will give them structure on how to deal with their grief and loss. The structure will help them off-load the mental and emotional weight and give them a way forward. Lamenting may not necessarily be needed for every negative moment, but teaching them earlier will help them feel more comfortable expressing themselves when it feels so unbearably heavy.

-Daniel Pak – Learn more about working with Daniel here!

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