Three emotions that help young people connect to Jesus this Holy Week

Kara Powell Image Kara Powell | Mar 26, 2018

Photo by Adi Constantin

Easter Sunday is my favorite worship service of the year. No question about it.

There’s electricity in our worship service. There’s more light and life in our faith community. Our entire worship center pulsates with passion and vitality.

My favorite Easters are often those that have been preceded by a season of lament. A season of mourning over the sin that separates us from God and from each other. A season of reflecting on what it cost Jesus to come to earth, live among us, and be crucified on a cross.

This Lenten season, I’ve been drawn to the cross in my own study of Scripture and my prayer times. The cross comforts me when I don’t know what to do. The cross is a safe place for me to kneel in my pain. As I’ve reflected on the cross, I’ve been regularly reminded of this truth: Easter Sunday is good because of Good Friday.

Easter Sunday is good because of Good Friday. (tweet that)

It’s always a little dangerous to imagine thoughts and feelings of Jesus that aren’t recorded in Scripture, but it doesn’t take a PhD in New Testament to imagine that Jesus experienced feelings of…

Disappointment that those closest to him—the disciples he had mentored, coached, and fed (literally) for three years—were nowhere to be found in Jesus’ time of greatest need.

Betrayal that one of his own handed him over to the Jewish Sanhedrin for a mere 30 coins.

Dread about the physical pain that was to come, as well as the spiritual agony of taking our sin upon himself.

Disappointment. Betrayal. Dread. Those sound like the experiences of today’s teenagers and young adults who feel…

Disappointment at the way our culture judges and belittles them, calling them “snowflakes” that melt at any challenge, or “entitled,” or “lazy” (to name the three terms I hear most commonly used by those over 30 to describe those under 30).

Betrayal because of the way that adults in their lives (including you and me) at times don’t seem to understand their struggles, and often have expectations that are way too high.

Dread of the future as they wonder what will happen if they don't land on the vocational path they expected—not to mention the dread they feel about the relational and romantic uncertainty that awaits them.

While of course Jesus experienced a myriad of emotions beyond these three, as do teenagers and young adults, these three emotions are threads that can connect young people to Jesus this Holy Week.

How can these emotions help connect young people to Jesus?

Through prayer—in the midst of their struggles.

This Lenten season, as I’ve encountered various relational challenges and leadership bumps in the road, I find myself praying, “Jesus, help me focus on the cross.” Sometimes I find myself praying that sentence multiple times in a row under my breath, making it what is often called a “centering prayer.”

In your own prayer journey this week, find a centering prayer that brings you close to the cross—it might be similar to my own or it might be totally different. When you have an open door to talk with a young person about prayer, share what that practice has meant to you and invite them to focus on the cross themselves.

Through conversation about God’s Word.

If you’re a ministry leader, look for opportunities this week to help young people explore Scripture, or simply listen to the narratives of Jesus’ last days, his betrayal, and death. If you’re a parent, maybe your best windows with your kids are to talk about a verse or two in the morning before school or in the evening before bed.

Either way, when teenagers or young adults share their feelings of disappointment, betrayal, or dread with you, think with them about how Jesus might have felt the same emotions as he faced the cross. Explore what it means that Jesus can empathize with them and is present with them in these challenging emotions.

Through forgiveness—in the midst of those moments when we blow it.

Last week I really blew it with angry words toward one of my children in the morning before I left for work (to spend a day with scholars, parents, and leaders thinking about how to better love young people—the irony is not lost on me). This was one of my two worst parenting moments ever. I couldn’t wait to talk to this child at the end of the day and ask for forgiveness. Thanks to the wise counsel of many friends, I didn’t make excuses or do anything too elaborate. I simply said, “I totally blew it and reacted in anger. You deserve to be treated better. I’m sorry. Will you please forgive me?”

The only way that I as a parent can have this kind of conversation with my child is because of the grace of Jesus—the grace offered to us because of the cross. All that Jesus experienced between Good Friday and Easter Sunday—including disappointment, betrayal, and dread—ushers in the gift of salvation by grace. The gift of resurrection hope.

Easter Sunday is good because of Good Friday.

And it is indeed very good.

Kara Powell Image
Kara Powell

Kara Powell, PhD, is the chief of leadership formation and executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) at Fuller Theological Seminary. Named by Christianity Today as one of "50 Women to Watch," Kara serves as a youth and family strategist for Orange and speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara has authored or coauthored numerous books, including Faith Beyond Youth Group, 3 Big Questions That Shape Your Future, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Growing With, Growing Young, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family and the entire Sticky Faith series. Kara and her husband, Dave, are regularly inspired by the learning and laughter that comes from their three teenage and young adult children.

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