This February I am aware of many, many people caught in a season of grief. In our church alone, we have had five funerals since Christmas, all longtime beloved members. While we mourn, we are also able to rejoice at their gift of life was long and now their acute stage of suffering is over. A long life is a blessing. We were blessed by those saints who lived among us.
But I am also aware that there are many now grieving a death that came much too soon.
Suicide is on the rise, particularly among our youth. These are early deaths we can all be a part of working to prevent. At our February Hudson Area Ministerial Association meeting, the bulk of our business for the day was considering our shared pastoral response. There is no magic answer for a mental health epidemic. Nor is there a one-size-fits-all approach.
I was pleased to hear Pastor Ladd Sonnenberg from Bethel Lutheran share the response youth workers in our churches were making with our combined youth groups on a shared evening of faith-based education on suicide that happened at the downtown Trinity Lutheran campus on Wednesday, Feb. 12. Equipping students is an important part of our shared responsibility for this epidemic.
But what more can we do? A night of information on a specific mental health topic is good, but when one is sick with the common cold virus one needs both tissues and soup in addition to the lecture on hand washing.
In the 1990s, the former Albion Institute did research on contributing factors to youth resiliency. These included such ordinary things as stable housing and adequate nutrition. Because Albion was doing faith-based research, they also included factors of spiritual life as factors in youth resiliency. Two are interwoven items we can all begin to act on immediately, no special training required and no matter how young or old we are.
The first is regular family participation in a community of faith. As a Christian pastor, a mother of three and grandmother of two, I hear this as making priority time in family life for regular worship and fellowship in a local church.
The second is a connection with an older adult who is a long-lived person with a vibrant faith life. When this research came out I was a lay leader volunteering with children and youth, and this older adult role was carried in our church by a faithful group of women then in their 80s. The children and youth I volunteered with all knew Irmagene and the others were holding them in prayer daily, and if they had a special prayer need, the youth knew these grandmothers of the church were there for them.
I would encourage you to place yourself in the Albion research and my witness to discern your next step in facing this mental health crisis that results in so many young deaths together. If you don’t have a faith community, seek one out and attend regularly for worship and fellowship. Weekly participation is best but as my old boss used to say when I was attempting a career in commissioned sales, “Half a loaf is better than none.”
And along with that step, commit yourself to pray for the youth you know and the youth you know of. They could be youth in your family, in your church, in the house next door. These are the youth you know by name.
They could be the youth in our high schools and middle schools for whom we could make driving by their campuses a moment of prayer. They could be the youth on stage or playing basketball that we applaud. We can mix prayers with our applause.
They could be the youth working first jobs at box stores and gas stations. And as the churches of our region, we can pray together in worship for the youth we live among.
Saint Paul once wrote to the church in Galatia, “Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) As a reader of this column, I invite you to join the pastors of the St. Croix Valley in blanketing our youth with prayer as a critical part of how together we can address this mental health crisis.
Grace will abound as we are faithful.