I was in fourth grade when 9/11 happened and many teachers had the news on throughout the day. Our principal made an announcement that no one was allowed to talk about what had happened. I remember going to church for choir, and our director prayed with us a little differently that night. She prayed for everyone’s hearts to be safe and for clarity in this confusing situation. Then she said “God, we have some questions for you” and opened up the floor for us to ask God the questions that our adults couldn’t answer.
All of a sudden, I got to talk about something previously forbidden, and I got to ask questions. From there the memory gets fuzzy, but I remember feeling safe in the space created to be mad at God. This was a new (and confusing) experience because up until then we were always told to rely on faith in times of trouble.
It can feel wrong to give people assurance that God is going to get us through the difficulties we face. Why would we trust in God if God is the one who lets bad things happen? All of a sudden, God—the one we are supposed to eternally count on—is another being who has disappointed us, and we feel alone. But we aren’t alone. We are confused. Confused as to why something bad has happened and confused about how to get through it. We are angry. Angry at the situation and angry at God for letting it happen. We are scared. Scared about what this all means. These feelings are hard to process when we think we are alone. So that’s how difficult conversations need to start—together.
Creating Safe Spaces
It is important to create the space for people to actually feel their feelings in a supported manner. As people realize that their feelings are valid, they can start to process the difficulty that has occurred. I think about last year when I had to tell students that their classmate had passed. All I was expected to do is tell them the information, but I couldn’t.
Instead, I sat with them hand in hand as someone else told us together. They looked to me with tears in their eyes and were met with the same on my face. In that moment, they knew we were being vulnerable together, experiencing a loss as equals. When we were able to talk, we focused on what we knew—that we were hurting. Questions that couldn’t be answered were spoken into the space, and expressions of anger were shared. Just knowing that we were not alone made the conversation happen as it needed to occur.
A Hard Task
Having difficult conversations is a hard task for all sides. Listening without judgment, asking hard questions, and relaying bad news can challenge us as individuals. Being honest in the discomfort of this can help create the safety to feel and process at the same time. When someone is displaying their feelings safely, that shows others that they can do the same. In addition, our brains naturally want answers. It is why we ask questions and seek solutions. It is also why we jump to God as the reason for all things we don’t understand.
To create a safe space for people to process, we must check our own presence and create the space to be able to address what is going on. That means we must be vulnerable ourselves and face the difficult conversation we need to have with God. Whether it takes the form of asking questions or explaining what has happened, this conversation is going to be difficult.
Lens of Faith
So how do we, as adults, have these conversations through the lens of faith? Well, that is up to you and who you are. Some people pray for answers and some people challenge their faith. God created us with the ability to make our own choices and follow the paths we see fit. That means we get to decide how to be true to who we are and how we feel when having conversations.
When we do that, we can get to the place where we see God as the one to hold our hand as we wade through the difficulties. We can get back to a place of trusting in God to make things clear to us as we seek answers. Accepting that we don’t know everything and must rely on others is why the conversations happen, whether they are between an individual and God or a group of people who share a faith.
The Image of God
In holding the difficult conversations with others, we are acting in God’s image. We are the ones holding someone’s hand as they get through the difficulties. We are creating the space to be brave and supporting through love, just like God has done for us in our own journeys. This is what we have been taught since the days of Sunday school and have struggled to put into action. We aren’t expected to have all the answers. We just try our best to share love and support others in their times of need.
About the Author
Elaine is an educator by trade and passion, licensed in Special Education areas of Emotional Behavior Disorders, Specific Learning Disabilities, and Autism Spectrum Disorders, as well as Communicative Arts. Education-driven, she has previously completed a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership and is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in the area of Social Psychology. With Spirit & Truth Publishing, Elaine is happily employed as a writer and editor.
This blog post is part of a monthly series of practical advice for faith formation leaders by faith formation and education professionals. Summaries of these posts are sent in a monthly email to email subscribers. Subscribe today!