Hurt, and the Paradox of Healing

Posted on April 12, 2008


After a dinner with one of students in my ministry, I decided to post my review and comments on Chap Clark’s Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers. Baker, 2004 (sixth printing, 2006). (236 pages).

Though based on a project beginning December 1, 2001, concluding mid-September 2002 as a substitute teacher in the Glendale Unified School District, the impact of the information and conclusions in this book help to educate all who work with youth regardless of geography. The two fundamentals that form the basis of the thesis are systemic abandonment, and the world beneath. Charting through Peers, School, Family, Sports, Sex, Busyness and Stress, Ethics and Morality, and the Party Scene, Clark suggests (convincingly) that adolescence is truly different today than it was even 30 years ago and that all of those elements in our culture have systematically (though not necessarily intentionally) abandoned the teenager to a world beneath, an alternative reality that the adolescent will create to find some sense of safety, security, identity, and care.

What is perhaps most telling are the last two chapters in which Clark sums up what adolescents really need, and the “five strategies to turn the tide of systemic abandonment.”

“As men and women who care about what abandonment has done to our young, we have the opportunity to make a significant difference if we but realize that the biggest need every student has is satisfied in one adult who is there for him or her.” (italics mine)

“The only qualification an adult needs is the willingness and fortitude to authentically care. Once this foundation is laid, adults can focus on the three specific needs of midadolescents:

1) Youth need refocused, nurturing organizations and programs.

2) Youth need a stable and secure loving presence.

3) Youth need to experience authentic, intimate relationships with adults.” (p.171)

The five strategies are just as simple and straightforward: 1) Those who work with youth should be trained in the changing youth culture. 2) Those who serve adolescents must work together. 3) Those who serve adolescents must understand youth and provide boundaries. 4) Parents need to be equipped and encouraged to parent the changing adolescent. 5) Communities must make sure that each student has a few adult advocates who know and care for him or her. (p.177-183)


Tonight was difficult. I took a student out to dinner, one of those “good kids” in our group; a faithful attendee, beloved by students and volunteers alike, approachable and personable demeanor and personality, and overall, just a good kid. Yet, even after having been with our church his whole life, he chose tonight to share his struggles, thoughts of suicide, running away, and wanting to escape, just to find solace and a sense of peace outside of his home.

Now, I know intellectually that statistically speaking, any kid in our group, good home or bad home, will struggle with these kinds of issues. I read Hurt and agreed immediately that this is happening, and that there are no formulas. But what made tonight different was a sinking, and deepening feeling of reality. I’m reminded of a quote by Gary Haugen in his book “Good News About Injustice” which may illuminate my experience:

But like most of the great ugliness transmitted by TV across the world and into my living room, the terror in Rwanda just did not seem real. It seemed true, but not real–not to me. I did not dispute the accuracy of the reports, but they might as well have been pictures from Sojourner on Mars or reports about people who lived in ancient Rome or statistics about how many bizillion other solar systems are in the Milky Way–all true enough, but not real. Not real like my kids when they are sick, not real like my job when I am behind in my work, not real like my neighbors when one of them has been in a car accident, not even real like my Midwestern compatriots when they have been flooded out of their homes.

But then in the fall of 1994 I went to Rwanda… [1]

Again, I had read Hurt and agreed, but tonight, “I went back to Rwanda,” so to speak, again. [2] This isn’t the first time I’ve been there. Countless other lunches and dinners and after-game-pow-wows with students have shown me the heaviness, pain, anger, and fear that my students are dealing with every day, all while trying to be normal teenagers. But what is happening to me recently is that the more I engage with their worlds, the more frightened I become of not being able to help them. I further doubt that I can bring healing to their lives. I’m less certain every day that I can advance the Kingdom of God in their circumstances. … And most of all, I’m afraid that I will lose the battle of cynicism, and (continuing with the Rwanda analogy), turn in my passport, and never go back to that country again. My world, and my reality are enough for me. In other words, I’d rather read Hurt and have it be true, than live in the Hurt and have it be real. Some days, like tonight, are just too much.

You see, the paradox of healing is that the process involves the well person to enter into the sickness; the sane person must lose sensibilities; the stable person must become uncomfortable; the spiritual person must engage with the world. And if I’m honest, as I enter deeper into the lives of my kids, the more I want out because I find myself becoming, well, more hurt. I feel more sick, less sensible, more uncomfortable, and definitely more worldly.

But that is exactly what is taught about the person of Jesus. Christians call it “incarnation.” The Bible calls it “Word becoming flesh.” And, John (1:14) uses the word “sarx” for “flesh” which has a more earthy and raw sense than the other Greek word “soma” which simply means the “body.” That which was the very beginning, the all-creative power, the “logos,” the Word that brought everything into existence, condescended himself to the rawest form of existence in the universe; humanity. And it is through that act that the world was set on a new trajectory of redemption.

You see, the paradox of healing also works backwards. The answer to life’s problems is not a calling of those in suffering to a higher state of redeemed existence (as popular New Age religion tries to tell us, e.g. “The Secret”), but for all of humanity to find, search out, and enter into the chaos and dysfunction of the world, and through that act, those areas of life that were once filled with chaos and pain will have no choice but to be forced to see things through a new lens of reality. Their dysfunctional worlds have been infused with a new identity, and that is the flesh being transformed by the Word.

And I am saved in the process.

This is why I appreciate Clark’s observations and exhortations.

This is also why I’m having lunch with another student tomorrow.

[1] Gary Haugen, Good News About Injustice, (InterVarsity, 1999), 24.

[2] I do not mean to overtly analogize the Rwandan genocides. I’m simply using Gary’s observations illustratively, and sympathetically.