Youth and Young Adults: Confronting Loss and Grief, Part 1

What has come to a screeching halt for you over the past few months? What did you lose? Was it a thriving friendship, a job, an internship or volunteer position, a home, financial stability, a long-cherished dream, health, a sense of purpose, motivation to move forward, a sense of freedom, a classroom learning experience, the sense of belonging, church group fellowship, sense of safety, or unmasked breathing? Have you experienced a sense of loss due to social and physical distancing requirements?

Who did you lose during this season? Did you lose any­one in death to coronavirus or some other illness? Did you lose a parent, sibling, grandparent, aunt, uncle, in-law, other family member, church member, friend, significant other, coworker, classmate, neighbor, boss, acquaintance, or foe?

If you answered in the affirmative to any of the afore­mentioned questions, please accept my deepest sympathy. Indubitably, you will concur that the coronavirus pandem­ic is not merely a health crisis, it is a psychological and social catastrophe that has literally upended many lives. It has also caused a spiritual disaster for individuals whose personal experience with God is hinged upon physical church attendance, fellowship, and church roles.

During this ongoing period of loss that has affected everyone, the resultant grief is real. As our loss differs, so does the response. Some reactions to loss may be physical (health and wellness related)—such as insomnia, headaches, chest pain, and weakness. Other reactions may be psychological (mental/emotional)—including confusion, irritability, anxiety, mistrust, apathy, and fear of loss. Still others may be behavioral—such as withdrawal from others, outbursts, substance abuse, and proneness to accidents. Others may be spiritual—manifested by a change of values, disbelief, withdrawal from church fellowship, or minimal to no personal prayer or Bible study moments. It follows that the response to loss needs to address the diverse levels of aforementioned reactions, with emphasis on the most debilitating areas, and seek to strike a balanced response to all four dimensions.

This is a time when all, especially vulnerable youth and young adults, need emotional and spiritual support from compassionate, caring responders. Many need someone with whom they can debrief, rehash, and clarify personal and shared experiences. Youth and young adults need to be reminded that amid the multitude of possible positive responses, they are not to lose hope. God is faithful, and relying on His abundant promises remains one of the most potent coping mechanisms.

The scriptures note that God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3, NKJV); that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be com­pared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18, NKJV). God promises that although “now is your time of grief, [he] will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:22, NIV).

All youth ministry leaders are “essential workers” during this crisis response period. They are first responders in these times of ongoing grief with many who are struggling to acclimate to societal and personal changes. This is a time for all pastors, youth directors, youth ministry leaders, and Adventist mental health professionals to be intentional about interceding for and interacting with our youth, young adults, and their families who have experienced various types of loss and are grieving in diverse ways.