When we Create a Safe Place, we keep confidential what our few say in small group. The exception is the 3 hurts:
when a student is hurting someone,
when someone is hurting a student, or
when a student is thinking of self-harm.
But we all know that the situations and contexts our students struggle through aren’t always limited to their own singular experience, and our 6th grade girls and SGLs came across another hurt: when the friend of a student is thinking about self-harm. This is a trickier situation since it’s second hand, but it’s one we still have to act on if we can. And it may be a situation you’ve find yourself in with your students before.
So what should we do when this situation shows up on our radar? If possible, find out the name and school of the friend so that we can contact his or her school’s guidance counselor. You might get pushback from your student on this, so here’s something to say to keep things in perspective: “It’s better to risk losing a friendship than to risk losing a friend.”
Here’s the crazy thing about creating a safe place: you are going to hear things that scare you, things that break your heart, things that no kid should ever have to deal with. When we create a safe place, we are demonstrating to our few that we are safe adults to trust with their concerns, their stresses, their fears. It’s at that point that they will either shrug or start to take you seriously and invite you in. Some people call this relational youth ministry, but Andy Root calls this incarnational youth ministry. In the incarnation, God put on skin and bones and moved into our neighborhoods and proved his love to us by meeting our needs, calming our fears, giving us hope, and then removing the last obstacle to us knowing God’s love forever. And then before Jesus went off to his crucifixion, he gave his disciples the command to do what he had done:
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you (John 15:12 NIV).
When we create a safe place, when we prove that we are adults worth trusting, it’s going to get messy and scary and we might rethink our decision to be SGLs. But it’s also in that spot that we are nearest to Jesus the incarnate God, the One who stepped into our mess and our darkness and begged for a way out but stayed the course anyways. In that nearness we not only have an opportunity to understand Jesus in a new way, but to follow his example of praying honestly, leaning on our community, and fixing our eyes on God. And in doing that, we will even more fully realize God’s great love for us and be ready to share that love with our few.
. . .
Written by Matt Wiggins
Student Ministry at Davidson College Presbyterian Church
Author’s Note: Written with input by Chris Genders, Ashley Bohinc, Mikiala Tennie, Heather Matatazzo, and Nicholas Hatch from the XP3 Partners Facebook Group. Thank you for your collective wisdom and help.