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Chris Schaffner

Myths About Grief


I am all too familiar with grief.  It has been a constant companion in the work I do, working with people who struggle with substance misuse, have a mental health diagnosis, the homeless, and marginalized youth, like LTGBQIA+ teens. I have a background in emergency medical care first working as a paramedic and then later in an ER as part of a trauma team. I have also worked on a surgical team that would procure tissue and organs for donation post-mortem. As a counselor working with the population I do, I frequently get the “call” we all dread. Whether it is death, accident, injury, or loss of a relationship, grief is an unwelcome visitor.

I have also experienced grief in ministry. I remember the details of all the student deaths that occurred. I remember specifically talking with students, friends, family members, staff and volunteers and not being able to satisfactorily answer the “why” questions.

Weekly I see status updates from youth ministry friends asking for resources to provide students and families on the subject of death and grief. Many are unsure how to lead a group of young people through the challenging journey of grief as well as how to navigate that journey of their own. That is why we felt compelled to debunk myths surrounding grief.

Myths About Grief:

Grief and mourning are the same things.

Grief and mourning are inseparable, grief is the emotional, internal processing of loss/bereavement and mourning is the expression of that grief.  For example, grief is filled with feelings of sadness, anger, and thoughts that contribute to the intensity of those emotions.  Examples of mourning are crying, talking about the person who has died, or celebrating special dates related to the deceased.  Not expressing the grief through mourning can be a barrier to healing.

Grief and mourning follow a linear and orderly pattern.

The “Stages of Grief” popularized by Elizabeth Kubler Ross was never meant to be a definitive prescription for dealing with grief where you checked off each stage as you progress beyond it.  There is no one way that an individual grieves and mourns.  For every individual that experiences grief, there is a unique expression of that grief, based on numerous variables. Don’t get caught up in, “Am I grieving the right way?”.

You should move away from grief, not toward it.

It is toxic to the soul to repress what longs to be expressed.  Job stripped off his clothes, scraped himself with shards of pottery, and sat in a heap of ashes that came from everything he had, and he sat there for a long time.  He could have immediately started to “put the pieces back together” but literally just sat in his grief.  He moved into it.  Minimizing grief and avoiding the mourning process tends to lead to isolation and confusion and even deep depression.

The goal should be to “get over it” as soon as possible.

I hear many people say, “I should be over this by now”.  I hear others say the same thing about those in mourning, implying that it is bad to feel bad for too long.  As we reconcile the loss in our lives with being able to move forward there can be a renewed sense of hope and power surge into our spirit but that does not mean we are done grieving or mourning.  We can sense movement but still be in process and that is what many experience when they reach that point.  The ever-present, sharp pain in the heart will eventually change into an accepted and acknowledged sense of loss.  The sense of loss will likely never completely go away but will dull over time.

I have to be strong = No tears/emotions.

We live in a toxic culture that is repulsed by “signs of weakness”.  Tears, strong emotions and general sadness are looked down upon.  How many times have you heard a parent say, “Knock that off or I’ll give you a reason to cry”?  This implies that there is no reason to cry, so STOP!

Usually, when people try to console a crying individual it is because they are uncomfortable with that expression of grief and often feel powerless to help stop the pain you are experiencing.  God stores up our tears in a bottle the Psalmist tells us and knows what is in each one.  He values the tears you shed and is likely shedding tears of the same thing because death was never in His plan.

The individual is the only loss.

Individuals who are mourning are not just mourning the loss of the individual who has died but also all the dreams associated with that relationship.  Other issues that may contribute to the intensity of the grief could be the financial cost/loss, future plans, memories to be made, etc.  The intensity of grief is typically driven by these future-oriented losses as well.  Allow time to process and speak about these additional losses as part of the grief journey.

Have you experienced grief/loss in ministry?  Have you heard these myths from those you walked with?  Have you felt or believed these myths yourself?  How will you address these myths looking forward?

5 Ways To Lose Credibility With Teenagers


We all know youth workers who have lost credibility with their students. We often pass judgment on them and know personally what we would have done differently. However, what makes a youth worker credible in an teenager’s eyes may be different from what a youth worker thinks will make them credible.  Credibility is often confused with trustworthiness and likability, or the youth worker is more concerned with being liked than respected. But teens are smart consumers, and they know the difference between authentic adults and those just trying to sell a product.

We cannot transmit something we don’t have. When we minister to youth and don’t take care of ourselves first, we end up taking shortcuts, overcompensate, or look for the easiest ways to do the bare minimum. Usually the intentions are good, but sometimes the outcomes of our ministry efforts are not. Adults in general can try too hard, control too much, or pretend something is working when it clearly in not, and this is typically because they don’t know what else to do. When the glass is empty, it’s empty and there’s nothing left to give to others.

1. Craving Student’s Approval

For some of us the validation we receive from the teens we serve can be a powerful experience.  Many of us involved in youth work are there because we had a particular experience in our own adolescence.  For some of us, it is an opportunity to return the favor and investment made on our behalf.  It is a chance to make a difference in the lives of the youth in our community and we have a sense of calling and/or obligation to do this.

For others though, it may be a more pathological motivation.  I have met, on more than one occasion, the youth worker who is trying to re-live their teenage years vicariously through the students they minister to.  This is an insidious and often beneath the surface drive but is none-the-less real.  It plays out like this; I didn’t get validation from my peers during my formative years so now I am living that out in ministry and trying to gain their approval today, as if my intrinsic worth is tied up in their opinion of me.

This typically results in shallow ministry fruit because the goal, intended or unintended, is not spiritual growth but personal validation from the students to the adult.  This does not mean that God won’t use a person’s past hurts in ministry today but if these hurts cloud your ability to see things clearly then the person may do more harm than good.  This is a good indicator that someone is running on empty because they are disconnected from the Source of their validation, Jesus.

2. Being too Cautious

As a result of seeking the student’s approval the youth worker must then measure everything that said to the youth.  This is much like a couple’s first date.  The person does not want to say or do anything that would reflect poorly on them and end the chances of future endeavors.

This can occur in ministry as well.  During the early stages of rapport building this is quite understandable but as time goes on trust and trustworthiness should develop.  These two things cannot develop is one party has an ulterior motive.  Also, once the relationship does develop it is difficult for the youth worker to speak challenging truth into the lives of their students for fear of losing their affirmation.  A wise man told me once that I should “love people enough to tell them the truth”.  This can’t be done if one can not remain objective.

3. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy

Rainbows, Pixies, Jelly Beans, and the Warm Fuzzies are not the substance of (most) teenagers lives. Often, we sell them a fantasy world that says, “If you just accept Jesus then everything magically gets better!”  Ta-Da! The quickest way to lose credibility, and your influence, is to pull a bait-and-switch about what it means to follow Jesus.

4. Trying Too Hard

Sometimes we can try way too hard to convince the students that they need Jesus. Kids can tell when the experiences they have with us are more about us meeting an objective that when we are genuinely loving them. Sometimes we need them to believe because we are the ones that doubt. It’s like them coming to believe in Jesus validates our own faith. This can be dangerous to both the students and us. A faith that is built on “sand” is shaky at best and the damage it can do to the budding, young faith of a student is very real. We must get this in check, and we do this by first taking care of our own spiritual life.

Lastly, we lose credibility when we try to be the expert on all things. There is nothing so apparent to teens than a know-it-all youth worker. We mask that we don’t know the answers and kids can pick it up in our voice, our choice of words, body language, eye contact, and the stammer in our speech. Our attempts to cover this lack of knowledge only reduces our credibility and makes the situation worse.

5. I’m Stumped

This list is not even close to being exhaustive. We should constantly be aware of those practices that erode our influence over our students. It is our belief that students are looking for credible adult guides to lead them out of the wilderness of adolescence. Teens will usually follow those that earn (i.e. real, authentic) being followed and their loyalty remains for many years after they leave our ministries.


How do you care for yourself as you are being poured out for youth students?

Are you leading in such a way that you keep a high level of credibility?

Are you leading and serving in a way that young people know you are trustworthy of following?


chrisChris Schaffner is a counselor and veteran youth worker. He is also the founder of CONVERSATIONS ON THE FRINGE. CotF is an organization seeking creative and innovative ways to bridge the gap between the mental health community and those entities (particularly schools and churches) that serve youth in contemporary society.

How Rape Culture Is Implanted In Boys At An Early Age


Just turn on the news and you will see stories from the #metoo and #churchtoo movement. This movement is driven by large numbers of men and women (mostly women) who are reporting sexual misconduct among powerful people in politics and Hollywood. It is starting to feel like a reckoning that has been a long-time coming.

As a father of three girls and a son, I am concerned with the culture they will have to navigate and the influence of that culture on their understanding of power, gender, and equality. Unfortunately, as research is revealing, our children are being indoctrinated in rape culture ideas before they turn five. Let’s look at some of the ways this happens:

1. “Go Give Everyone A Hug Goodbye”

How often do we force young child to display affection to people in their lives? Sometimes it’s a familiar person and other times it’s someone less known to the child. Yet, we push them into the arms of someone even if they have no desire. What we teach our children when we do this, is their personal and internal boundaries do not matter.

2. “Boys Will Be Boys”

When a boy makes an unwanted gesture towards someone else that is aggressive or sexual in nature, we often minimize their behavior and chalk it up to “boys being boys”. When we reduce their behaviors to genetics they cannot be held accountable for their actions. This type of entitlement can grow into unwanted sexual advances in which the young man expects sexual favors in exchanged for his attention, financial investment, and time sacrificed for the object of his affection.

3. “Dress Modestly”

School dress codes are notorious for perpetuating the idea that boys/men are weak-willed in their sexual urges and the girls/women should be hypervigilant, keeping themselves appropriately covered at all times, so as not to trigger their male peers. This idea also tells young girls that they are not in charge/have no power over, and that men define the relationship the can have with their own bodies. Another damaging concept from the modesty movement is girls who dress less modestly clearly invite sexual advances.

4. “He Must Like You, That’s Why He’s Picking On You”

Can we please stop telling our young girls that when a boy in her class hits her, pulls her hair, or calls her a name, it’s because he secretly “likes” her? This is so clearly damaging and sends the wrong messages to both the girls and the boys. Girls can learn to believe that aggression and love are inseparable, and as that plays out into the teen years, intimate partner violence  has the potential to increase as well.

The idea that if a young man loves someone he must violently protect or prevent her from leaving. This leaves our young men so emotionally fragile and gives them a ready excuse for their behavior, “I couldn’t help it, I love her”. This does not extrapolate well into adulthood.

5. “Relentless Persistence Is Romantic”

Lastly, the notion that love is persistent is damaging. It can seem innocent and passionate on the surface but it has more insidious roots. Relentless pursuit of another in the face of opposition from the one being pursued is called stalking. It is coercive, manipulative, and can lead an eager young men to challenge the idea that “no means no” actually really does mean “No”.

Our children a constantly receiving messages as they grow that shapes the way they interact with peers of all genders. Let’s be sure we are not intentionally or unintentionally laying the wrong foundation for how they connect with one another.


chrisChris Schaffner is a counselor and veteran youth worker. He is also the founder of CONVERSATIONS ON THE FRINGE. CotF is an organization seeking creative and innovative ways to bridge the gap between the mental health community and those entities (particularly schools and churches) that serve youth in contemporary society.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the Conversations on the Fringe Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Conversations on the Fringe. 

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