For Youth Workers Post


Steve Matthews

“In the Habit” session for use with devozine meditations for July 25–31, 2016.


“By the time a child is three or four years old, they are beginning to make sense of the world around them. They have some language skills, and they are figuring our how things work. As they move through their first few years, their toys change from stuffed animals, rattles, and squeaky toys to simple puzzles and crafts that inspire their creativity (like Play-Dough and paints). They are learning some of the rules of physics and gaining insight into how pieces come together. At about the age of three or four, children start asking, “Why?” While their understanding is growing by leaps and bounds, they also are aware of the gaps. They want to bridge the gaps, so they ask questions. Often the most painful “why” for a child has to do with the issue of fairness: Why does my sister get to stay up later than I do? Why can’t I go into the swimming pool by myself? Why did my puppy die?

“Asking ‘Why?’ is normal. It makes perfect sense that we would be frustrated, maybe even despairing, when events seem senseless and unfair. We too ask ‘Why?’: Why did my Dad die so young? Why did I get that diagnosis when I take such good care of myself? Why did my boyfriend dump me? Why can’t people see that we are all equal and beloved by God? Even Jesus asks, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27:46, NRSV) as he hangs on the cross.

“Sometimes we ask ‘Why?’ because we are asking for reasons, and sometimes we ask ‘Why?’ almost as a prayer. We yearn to feel known and loved as we walk through our unknowing frustration and despondency. Good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people. We may not be able to answer the question ‘Why?’ but we can know that God lovingly accompanies us in our questioning and our despair.” —Steve


devozine Steve Matthews IMG_0433Steve Matthews was a youth minister for more than fifteen years. He lives in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and is the Executive Director of the South Coast Mission Hub (a collaborative of churches sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts). Steve is also a spiritual director and a consultant, working to systematically redevelop parish ministries struggling with decline. He was a writer for The Way of Pilgrimage: An Adventure in Spiritual Formation for the Next Generation.



  • These three songs relate particularly well to the theme of “Why, God?”:
    Calling Glory sings “I Am With You.”
    > Avril Lavigne offers a completely different perspective with her song “I’m With You.”
    Walk With Me,” by Caedmon’s Call, is another great option.
  • Finally, this video illustrates the power of accompanying one another in misfortune and hardship—situations that may cause us to ask, “Why God?”


Begin this time with an opening ritual: a moment of silence, a short prayer that the group says together, or a candle-lighting to symbolize Christ’s presence. Take a moment to claim this space and time as holy.

Ask the group members:
       What in your life or in the world has caused you to ask, “Why God?”

Encourage them to listen prayerfully to the responses without comment. After everyone has responded, ask:
       What common themes did you notice?
       What surprised you?


Scripture: Psalm 46

How exactly does God help us? When we are faced with hardship, tragedy, indifference, and injustice, God may seem distant or absent. Why would a loving God allow suffering? In many places in the Bible, people question why God allows pain and unfairness. Asking “Why?” is normal, but the question often does not lead to a satisfactory answer. Maybe we are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking “Why do bad things happen?” perhaps we should be asking, “How is God with us in our pain and suffering?”

Ask the youth to form small groups. Distribute Bibles or copies of Psalm 46, and ask the members of each small group to read the psalm aloud. Then mix the groups up, and ask the members of each new group to read the psalm a second time. After a short period of silence, ask the youth what words, phrases, or images jump out at them. Write the words on the newsprint. Be sure to note any common themes or questions.

Invite the youth to consider:
       Why is trouble and despair in the world?
       If God is all-powerful, why does God allow injustice and hardship?

Point out that Psalm 46 begins and ends with a sense of God’s presence. In verse one, the psalmist writes that God is a “very present help in trouble” and verse eleven reads, “The Lord of hosts is with us.” Is it possible that God’s greatest power lies in God’s ability to accompany us with a transforming love even in the midst of suffering and trouble?

Write on newsprint the words, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a). Invite the youth into five minutes of quiet and stillness. Then ask this question:
       What part does stillness play in our ability to recognize God’s presence?

We can encounter God in the quiet and stillness, but perhaps the great gift and challenge for us is recognizing that we ourselves are God’s presence, activity, and compassion when other people ask “Why?” While we may not have the answers that instantly effect change, our advocacy and love can be manifestation of God’s presence in the midst of suffering.

Conclude “Exploring the Word” by showing the video mentioned in “Plugged In.”


Invite different youth to read in unison this prayer from “Walk With Me: Praying With Jesus,” by Janet Schaeffler:

“Loving and merciful God, I put my life in your hands. Help me to know that you are with me every moment of my life. Help me to trust in the depths of my heart that although life may not always be easy, may be, in fact, at times very painful, you are there beside me for me to lean on for strength and courage. Let me trust that you will provide for me that which I need to get me through the pain. When my time comes to leave this world, grant me the grace to embrace the advent of a new life with you with joy and anticipation, confident that you are waiting to greet me. I ask this in the name of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.”


God’s first response to suffering and injustice and all the things that leave us asking “Why?” is not direct, divine intervention that resolves the issue. God’s first response to hardship is the gift, given to us, to be able to be the presence of love and compassion and advocacy for other people. We are given the miraculous grace to accompany others in their suffering in ways that can be transforming. Sometimes our accompaniment calls us to action (helping flood victims or confronting a bully); but more often, we are called to be with others as a source of God’s love and compassion. We are to be “a very present help in trouble.”

Invite the youth to write a description on the index card of one person or situation in which God may be inviting them simply to be with someone. Invite them to write on the back of the card a description of an area of their lives in which they need someone to be with them. Then invite volunteers to read their responses to the group.

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

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