He Sympathizes: Christ’s Solidarity in Our Students’ Anxieties
I could hear the sadness in her voice. “They just don’t want to be friends with me,” she said. My student explained the difficult situation going on at her new school – a school that she had switched to in the middle of the pandemic. She went on to explain how the girls at her new school have been leaving her out and treating her unkindly. I could tell how much it hurt, and I wished I could just snap my fingers and take the pain away from her.
This student is one of many in my ministry who has experienced anxiety in the middle of the numerous changes the past year has brought. Whether it’s been the transition from one school to another, from online to in-person again, or just from being at home for months and having to adjust to normal life, our students have been met with many unexpected changes in their lives.
In the middle of the uncertainty that changes bring, it is common to face feelings of fear and anxiety. But our students are not left without resources, for the gospel meets us in every single facet of our lives. We have an unchanging God who is with us. He is not only with us, but He is unmatched in his sympathy toward us.
Hebrews 4:15-16 says: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
In his exposition of Hebrews, John Owen says that Christ is “inwardly moved during our sufferings and trials with a sense and fellow-feeling of them.” What better hope do we have than this? The God of the universe, the creator, upholder, and sustainer of all things, has a heart that is moved in his people’s sufferings! He is with us in our sufferings. We could ask for no better support.
The two main encouragements I would want to give to my students facing the many anxieties of life are to draw near, and to practice the art of lament.
Draw Near to the Throne of Grace:
It’s easy for us to forget that Jesus was once a teenager. Jesus walked this earth as a full human being. He is not merely a picture or shadow of a person, but a true, flesh and blood human, while at the same time fully God. Not only that, but he is seated at the right hand of the Father right now, as a human being. He fully understands the human condition.
When I am met with a certain trial or pain in life, I know how easily I gravitate toward the people who have been through the same things and can intimately understand what I am going through. We all know how deeply comforting it can feel to talk to someone who just gets it. But the truth is, there is no one who “gets it” better than Jesus. He is the safest refuge for us to run to.
What does this passage in Hebrews say we do with the knowledge that Christ is not unable to sympathize with our weaknesses? The author tells us to “let us then with confidence draw near.” Knowing that Christ understands our pain isn’t just head knowledge that we are meant to soak up and do nothing with. Knowing that Christ understands should move us to run to his very own heart.
Our students are invited to draw near to the throne through Christ – not when their anxieties are over, but in the midst of the worst of them. And as we draw near, we can be honest with Him.
Practice the Art of Lament:
I have always been drawn to the Psalms. There is something so comforting and refreshing about the raw honesty in the language that David and the other psalmists use as they communicate their deepest feelings to God. Just look at Psalm 88 and all of the deep emotions it encompasses. The psalmist uses language like, “my soul is full of troubles” (v. 3), “I am helpless” (v. 15), and “darkness has become my only companion” (v. 18). This type of language is in the Bible as a comfort and reminder to us. We are invited to approach God in this manner: honestly. Reverently, of course, and at the same time, honestly. As Paul David Tripp once said, “The gospel is bloody, brutal, raw, and the blood and guts of that are on every page of Scripture. That is it’s hope.”
Our students’ hope isn’t found in telling them to just put on a smile and pretend like they don’t feel what they feel. Their hope is found in taking these raw, messy, painful feelings to the only One who can fully understand, fully sympathize, and fully heal them.
After all, we have a God who suffers. Who is safer to take our struggles to than the One who suffered for us? I pray the words of Psalm 42:5-6 over all of our students facing anxieties: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”