How children cope when sorrow of world strikes at their hearts

The Rev Tess Kuin Lawton, chaplain of Magdalen College School, Oxford

The Rev Tess Kuin Lawton, chaplain of Magdalen College School, Oxford

First published in News
Last updated

THERE are some terrible events making the news at the moment: the deaths of all those on board flight MH17, the ground offensive in Gaza and the expulsion of Christians and burning of churches in Mosul, in Iraq.

In this paper we have remembered the deaths of three bright young teenagers: the anniversary of Martha Fernback’s death last year, the funeral of Liberty Baker who was 14 and the death of Felix Byam Shaw, also 14.

The readings in church last week speak into the heart of such agony.

Jesus is telling a parable about “the wheat and the tares”. Set against the backdrop of fields full and ready for the harvest, he tells his followers about a man who sowed good seed on good land, but as it grew it was clear that the crop was infected by weeds which threatened to choke the wheat.

It is a story about the human condition and it is a story about the problem of evil.

Hours after the plane crash, a photographer was talking about the emotional impact of walking through fields of sunflowers to find human remains and pieces of wreckage. It is a powerful modern image of the ancient parable.

Jesus’ use of the image of death and destruction alongside the life-giving wheat reminds us that suffering is as old as the world itself. We suffer because we love. The depth of our pain is proportional to the depth of our love. And the Bible tells us that ‘God is love’ and that wherever we see love, we see God.

As a school chaplain, my job is to walk alongside the teenagers whose friend has died and give them space to grieve. Unlike adults in this country, teenagers are very good at mourning.

They instinctively reach out for one another, they write eloquent and beautiful tributes to their friend on Facebook and post old photographs.

These acts of remembrance are a critical part of the grieving process and teenagers seem to do it naturally.

They are not afraid of showing their emotion in public and if they feel as though they are in the centre of a chaotic whirlpool of feelings, well, that is a place they inhabit a lot of the time anyway.

So they live it and they share it and they discover new levels of friendship and solidarity that they did not know existed. ‘No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us’ (1 John 4.12).

One thing that Martha and Liberty and Felix seem to have shared was that they were loved beyond measure. They were children who knew they were loved and they radiated that joy to others.

As one poem puts it:

He took his candle
And went into another room I cannot find.
But I know that he was here
Because of all the happiness He left behind.

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