Living in the desert, we have our share of dangers—wildlife such as coyotes, javelina, various types of lizards, and of course, snakes. One, in particular, is the Rattle Snake which is a predator but also an opportunistic animal. It not only seeks out the prey, but it also lies in wait and strikes at the right time. Its venom is a mixture of hemotoxins and neurotoxins, which attack both the flesh, blood, and nervous system. Although it can be excruciating, and a medical professional will need to treat it, the first aid tactic to treat it is pretty interesting. The treatment suggested for this wound is to let it bleed, remove any restrictive items, and don’t cut into it. If you treat it too early, you can make the wound worse. Who thought the best thing one can do is to leave it alone and remove anything that is not allowing it to bleed?
This bit of wildlife survival got me thinking that approaching a broken-hearted youth may be very similar. When a youth experiences a broken heart that may result from a failed relationship, a failure in life, or a rejection from a sports team or college of choice, the rejection can be a very traumatic experience. These emotions that they are feeling can be overwhelming to their mind, body, and soul. Like a venom coursing through their veins, it causes damage as it goes. The first step to a cure or processing of the trauma is to allow the “heart to bleed” a bit. We must remember that their frontal lobes are still developing due to their stage in development, so they feel emotions very, very deeply.
As pastors, parents, or youth workers, we are called to feed, guide, protect, and care for the youth. However, when caring for a broken heart, we need to support them, but in doing so, we often fail at giving a person a safe space to allow their “heart to bleed.” I mean that we need to allow them to feel and communicate every emotion associated with the heartbreak. The sadness, anger, frustration, humiliation, and even bitterness the heartbreak can cause. That might include the most cringe-worthy illogical statements teenagers make when they are hurt, like “I’ll never get into college.” or “I’ll never fall in love again!”.
Creating a safe place for them to express themselves allows them to purge the emotions that are poisoning their mind and soul. You can create a safe place by physically taking them to a spot, like a park, car, or quiet room, where they can be free from interruption, giving them time and space to process. Be aware of your body language by visibly showing concern and compassion. Also, the only words out of your mouth should be to validate what they are feeling, such as, “I see that you are hurt.”, “I understand your disappointment.”, or “I’m so sorry that this happened to you.” Please note that one can validate feelings without agreeing that the teen should feel that way. In my personal experiences and outside studies, I have found that people feel better and begin to heal once they talk things out. This can only happen if they feel safe. Once the emotional purge happens, we can encourage, point them toward prayer, suggest alternatives, and clarify the situation. However, like with the snake bite, if we try to treat it too quickly, we could make things worse. Speaking the “Truth in Love” is not restricted to attitude; it should also include the wisdom of “when” and “how” we speak truth into a student’s life. Remember, heartbreak is real for teenagers and should not be dismissed easily. However, with a caring adult by their side, the teen can heal and recover, and you may just have earned their trust to walk with them through other challenges.
Joseph Valenzuela is the Executive Pastor at New Life Scottsdale in Scottsdale, Arizona.