“You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens.” — Rumi
We over in the Justin are in our 6th semester of in-house written and developed curriculum for our high school Sunday school program. The program works on an elective class schedule with every semester us offering Faith in 3D, which looks at faith and pop culture, a service opportunity, and Soul Care. Soul Care has been, up until this point, a class about spiritual disciplines, but we decided to take a break and spend a semester focusing on giving high schoolers space and tools to talk about some of the bottom half of the emotions wheel, building emotional resiliency, community, and coping skills. We picked 4 emotional experiences we considered to be universal to the high school experience, and particularly hard on teenagers.
The very first one in the series is heartbreak.
People give teenagers such a hard time about this. In my experience of being a youth pastor, I can’t have more than a thirty-second conversation about what I do without someone bringing up how dramatic teenagers are, how they feel like the world is ending when faced with disappointment, isolation, or worst of all, romantic rejection. People love to mock teenage heartbreak, love to roll their eyes and scoff about them crying in their rooms over something we have deemed insignificant.
And honestly, y’all, that’s garbage and you know it is. You know that’s garbage because you did the exact same thing. You were also 17 and terrified of asking a girl to prom, 15 and hiding in a bathroom stall because people who you thought were your friends betrayed you, 14 and devastated that one of your heroes turned out to be only human. You were also heartbroken, and you know what? You were not wrong, or overly dramatic, or ridiculous to do so (even if that’s what you’ve been telling yourself in all the years since).
You were young, and honest, and vulnerable.
And being young, and honest, and vulnerable is not a character flaw, it’s not something to be overcome, or suppressed or belittled any more than is the imagination of children or the nostalgia of older people.
Our teenagers care deeply about everything, it’s one of the most powerful things about working with them — they care about their relationships, their friends, things they read about in the news, and things they hear about in the church. One, who identifies as LGBT+ cried to me in the way that only teenagers cry how they had felt a call to ministry, and they realized that as it stands now, they would have to stay in the closet for their career or leave the church they love. And you know what they called it, what they named that pit in their stomach and lump in their throat?
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned as a youth pastor and a Christian over these past years is to let my heart break more easily. I have spent a lot of energy and time un-learning the impulse to cover up how much I care about something. We have a lot of virtues to learn from our young people, but this, the courage to have our heart broken easily, may be one of the most important ones. Teenage heartbreak is honest and it’s vulnerable and it emerges from having true and desperate hope in something or someone that fails you. It’s based in the belief in the good in the people around you, in the belief that things will be good and will work out.
It’s based on the gut knowledge that is the world is hard and broken and understanding that God has no expectation that they just accept things as they are. Teenage heartbreak is not embarrassing, or dramatic, or self-indulgent, teenage heartbreak is honest and real, and, at its very best, has something to teach us if we can find the humility to listen.
Director of Youth Ministries