For Youth Workers Post


Will Penner

“In the Habit” session for use with devozine meditations for January 4–10, 2016.


“When I realized that she had started cutting not only in a few places on her arms, but all over her legs, stomach, chest, and even her back where she could reach, I couldn’t believe it had escalated so quickly. In a few weeks, she had gone from being a quiet, seemingly happy kid in the back of the room to a depressed, angry, lonely kid. During treatment, her family and I met with physicians, who explained the physical effects of cutting, about which I had no prior idea. More important, though, we recognized that cutting was a symptom of a deeper, spiritual problem. I wish this were the only time a kid I cared about engaged in self-destructive behavior, but it wasn’t.” —Will


Will PennerWill Penner has been in ministry with young people for more than two decades in Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches, public and private schools, and as a very popular speaker at youth retreats, camps, and conferences. He has served as the editor of both leading professional journals of youth ministry and has authored or edited numerous youth ministry curricula and books, the latest of which is It Happens: True Tales from the Trenches of Youth Ministry. But most important, he is the husband of his amazing wife, Christine, and the father of five fantastic children ranging in age from six to twenty-four.



  • Why Do People Cut Themselves?” is a great, short, kid-friendly, news-style introduction to the topic of self-injury with a few manageable suggestions for those engaged in risky behaviors and others who want to help.


When everyone has arrived, bring the group together for discussion.
       When have you acted as though you were far more confident than you felt on the inside?
       What was the experience like?
       When was one of the darkest, most depressing times of your life?
       What contributed to the depression?
       When you looked around at other people, did you sense that you were all alone in your feelings or did you find others who were depressed as well?


Scripture: Romans 5:1–11

This section of scripture is part of an extended theological argument about the relationship between God and humanity. The bulk of it goes like this: Adam caused sin to come into the world, it has been here ever since, and we can do nothing about it. Jesus’ death conquered sin and its eternal power over the world. His death was all that needed to happen for our salvation. Grace wins in the end.

How does the story of sin and salvation help when we’re feeling lonely, depressed, confused, and completely alienated from God and other people? First, digging down into theological truth before we are at our wit’s end can help us to create some foundations that help us weather life’s storms. In the same way that trees grow up, they also grow down, digging roots deep into the ground to nourish themselves and to keep steady when the rains come and the winds blow. We also need strong roots because we will face trying times in our lives. The more firmly planted we are, the less blown around we will feel during the storms.

In painful times, we can connect with others who are experiencing difficulty, better yet, with people who have been through similar situations but have come out on the other side. In twelve-step communities, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, there are not only people who are trying daily to abstain from compulsions that have been killing them, but also people who have been sober, clean, or otherwise free of addictive behavior for years. People who have been free of addiction can provide incredible wisdom for those still caught up in the throes of their destructive choices.

More than anything, we can recognize that God created us to be in community with one another. Spiritually, we are only as sick as our secrets. When we allow the darkest areas of our lives to be illuminated, we often realize that we aren’t as alone as we thought. To be sure, we sometimes need to be careful whom we trust. Middle schools and high schools are not usually emotionally safe places; and going to church doesn’t make people spotless, trustworthy saints. That said, we have to start somewhere, looking for a person we might be able to trust and letting him or her know what’s going on in our lives. Besides, everything will eventually come to light. (Read Luke 12:1–7, which culminates with talking about the inherent worth of humanity.)

Romans 5:1–11 assures us that God already knows everything about us, good and bad; yet Christ was still willing to die for us. Nothing else needs to happen to justify or sanctify us. We do not need to punish ourselves in any way; Jesus’ death took care of all of that. Our job, then, is to begin to see ourselves as the precious, divine creatures we are, created in the image of God. No matter what we tell ourselves or hear others tell us about our shortcomings, God faithfully “proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NRSV).

Invite discussion:
       Who are some of the people we can trust with some of our deepest, darkest secrets?
       What are the secrets most teenagers are afraid people will find out about them?
       What is the worst that would happen if people found out?

Consider ending this “Exploring the Word” time with a reading of Luke 12:22–29.


Invite group members to pray together:

“God, thank you for loving us before we could reciprocate in love or devotion. Help us to believe that  your love is deep and powerful and to trust that you will fill our hearts with self-esteem that isn’t based in worldly measures. Help us to rest in the knowledge that your Holy Spirit lives within us and will never leave us. Help us to be kind to ourselves and to those around us. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.


Not much used to be said about adolescent depression. Adults tended to think that teens would just get over it—teens’ problems couldn’t be nearly as bad as adults’ problems. In recent years, adults who work with young people have helped to elevate the need to focus on teenage emotional issues, partly because of the alarming rate of suicide attempts (many of which are successful), cutting, substance abuse, and other risky destructive behavioral choices. Many young people who are depressed or suffering alone in dark place won’t trust adults. Invite discussion about how teens can help one another:
       If you as a teenager are not currently in a dark place, what is your responsibility to those who are?
       If you were to paraphrase Matthew 25:32–46 using the predominant issues among your peers, what would you include?
       How would you translate Matthew 25:32–36 into action this week?

—from devozine In the Habit (January/February 2016). Copyright © 2016 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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