I am blessed to work as a chaplain at a Christian international school in Nairobi, Kenya. This past week during our weekly chapel I invited students to enter into the tension of grief and gratitude. As a community of middle school and high school students we held a stone in one hand to symbolize the heavy things that we are carrying. In the other hand students held a piece of candy as a reminder of the sweetness and goodness of God.
We felt the weight of the stone and tasted the sweetness of the candy, experiencing in our bodies the tension of these realities. After a time of worship, students were invited to take part in a variety of stations. At one station there were hundreds of sticky notes where student could name their grief from the past 18 months of Covid and then put them up on the wall. By the end of our time together the wall was plastered with notes.
As I read the sticky notes, tears sprang to my eyes. I was overwhelmed by the grief on display. There was a rawness to them, brutally honest words scribbled by the hands of hundreds of hurting students. Students carrying weights and burdens beyond their years. The wall was a collective psalm of lament crying out, “where are you God? How long will you stay far away?”
As I took the sticky notes down after chapel I realized that I’d been given a glimpse into the inner lives of my students. Each note was sacred, a fragment of a greater story. A story that God yearns to redeem. As someone actively working with teenagers I do a lot of reading about Gen Z, and most of what I read is unflattering at best. There are plenty of labels that have been slapped on these young lives. So let me add one more label. This is a grieving generation. They are growing up and coming of age in a world on fire. Over the past 18 months they have been separated from friends and lost loved ones to Covid. They have seen parents lose jobs, had vacations and graduations, sports seasons and theatre productions cancelled. They have watched wealthy nations hoard vaccines while poor nations go without. They have internalized the pain and confusion of a world on fire. Their grief runs deep. These same kids who post crazy videos on Tiktok and instagram are silently struggling and suffering. Where do they go with their grief? Where do they find hope as even now a new variant of Covid is beginning to spread around the globe?
Today is the first day of Advent. This season of waiting, watching, looking for the coming Messiah. The one who will save us. As I write, my family’s first Advent candle sits lit on the coffee table in front of me; the candle of hope. A flickering flame burning in the darkness. Hope feels fragile against the darkness and grief of the world. It feels small in light of all the weighty words written and shared by my students. Hope feels small this evening as countries once again shut their borders, and the stock markets tumble and more loss looms. There will be more sticky notes to post. Stories of sadness to be told, and I confess that I too wait and cry out, “Where are you God?”
But then I remember the story. The story of Emmanuel. Hope made flesh. A tiny candle glowing in the darkness. Tonight, when the darkness looms and laps about my heart I choose to hold on to hope. To place my hope in Emmanuel. Would you join me in holding on to hope? Would you pray for those who have lost it? Would you pray for this grieving generation. May the hope of Emmanuel fill their hearts.