Processing Pain in Emerging Adulthood

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Throughout my life and ministry, I have observed people in various life stages (childhood, adolescence, emerging adulthood, adulthood) experience deep pain.  It is especially wrenching to see little children go through pain.  While some say that children are resilient to pain, could the limited reaction of children (their resilience) to pain be due to their ability to fully process it?  

Pain and suffering affect any individual’s development, regardless of their age; however, feelings aren’t always processed immediately when the tragedy occurs.  Painful events and trauma often circle back into our lives, especially while transitioning to new stages of development.  

As children grow and mature, we must understand that traumatic incidents will be processed at differing stages.  Let’s imagine that a young boy named Billy was a victim of physical abuse which happened when he was five years old.  A child might process this event at different ages based upon his cognitive, emotional, social, and spiritual development; For example: (Please note: listed ages are relative.)  

At 4 – Dad hit me.  It hurt.  

At 8 – Dad hit me.  It hurt.  Dad was angry.  I am scared.  (The child has developed the ability to identify emotions within themselves and others.) 

At 12 – Dad hit me.  It hurt.  Dad was angry.  Dad doesn’t love me.  I am scared of Dad.  I am angry.  (The child developed the ability to recognize cause and effect, and abstract concepts.)

At 15 – Dad hit me.  It hurt.  Dad was angry.  Dad doesn’t love me.  I am scared of Dad.  I am angry.  I feel confused about my emotions and reactions towards my dad and mom.  My dad had other options.  My mother had other options.  God had other options.  I am angry at dad, at mom, and God.  (The adolescent developed the ability to connect experiences with spiritual beliefs, to use complex rationality, and to contemplate social relationships).

At 21 – Dad hit me.  How am I affected by my past?  How has my experienced shaped what I believe about myself and the world?  How will my past affect my current and future relationships with him and others?  (The emerging adults developed the ability to reflect on their past while developing their autonomy, and  establishing a social community.) 

During the transition to adulthood, pain can resurface.  Adolescents once trapped by family systems who either forced the child to avoid pain, or were the source of pain – are now freely able to process their childhood experiences.   

As the individual transitions towards adulthood, emerging adults seeking to establish their autonomy will begin the process of separating who they were in the past (or what had happened to them) into who they want to be as they make their own decisions.  As they process their past pain, emerging adults reflect how their experiences has shaped them, and how it will affect who they become.   

As emerging adults develop community, they make decisions as to how their past will affect their current and future relationships.  The ability to choose their social network allows them to make decisions concerning with whom they will continue relationships (even among family members).

As emerging adults discover vocation, pain can lead their vocational decisions as they seek healing from past trauma, or seek to heal others from the pain that they once experienced.  

Pain plays often a vital role in each fundamental task of adulthood shaping each individual according to God’s plan.  As those who minister to emerging adults, we must learn to ask good questions that will lead emerging adults to reflect on their past.

Dr. G. David Boyd is the Managing Director of EA Resources, and the Founder of the EA Network.  If Dr. Boyd can help you and your community minister to the needs of emerging adults, you can contact him at      




Wake Me Up When It is Over

Recently, my church performed the song, “Wake Me Up” by Avicii. 

Here is my reflection on why we often want to skip through life.

turn in autumnWe want to skip to the ending without feeling the weight if the story. We want to arrive at the destination without a scuff on our shoes. We want to experience the victory without being in the battle. We want the results without putting in the time. We want the goods without paying the price.

The end of the journey will be better with calloused hands, worn out shoes, familiar scars, and memories.

These are the things that will make it real. These are the things that make it not a show we watch, but a life we experienced.

So I will open my eyes and look around me. I will embrace the pallet of colors drawn around me both light and dark. I will put my hands to the plow though my hands are blistered. I will take the next step into the darkness because I know what lies ahead. I will take a deep breath of the air though I feel its toxicity. I will put away the distractions that have numbed my pain and cause me to sleep.

I will work for that which is unrealized on this earth. I will keep my eyes on that which is unseen. I will keep my ears tuned to the voice if the shepherd. I will cling to the one who is not the God of the end. He is the God of the beginning. He is the God of the entire journey.

If I reject the moment, then I am rejecting Him.

I will know that I am healing…

Sandy road\'s and old stairways in black and white.I am still hurting.  When the pain fades, then I will know I am healing.

I am still grieving.  When I see the future, then I will know I am healing.

I am still drifting.  When my anchor hits the Rock, then I will know that I am healing.

I am still unable to trust others.  When I reach out, then I will know that I am healing.

I am still running.  When the running stops, then I will know I am healing.

I am still disillusioned.  When the fog clears, then I will know that I am healing.

I am still vengeful.  When retribution is surrendered, then I will know that I am healing.

I am still weakened.  When my strength is irrelevant, then I will know that I am healing.

I am still timid.  When courage revives, then I will know that I am healing.

I am still angry.  When hatred is overwhelmed by forgiveness, then I will know that I am healing.

I know that I am healing because healing is a process with an end.   What seems impossible to us is not with Him at our side.  He is the great Healer, and He awaits me at the conclusion of this journey.

May you continue in your healing – this too will pass.

Missing Beckham – A Father’s Story of Loss and Healing

Losing a child is the single most difficult emotional, spiritual, and physical journey of my life.  In the immediate days and week following the stillbirth of Beckham, I felt the extreme emotions of anguish and peace, despair and hope, love and hate, doubt and trust.  The pendulum of emotions feels like being stuck in the ocean’s rough surf.  You’re struggling to catch your next breath and to clear your stinging eyes before the next wave forces you under.

I found it difficult to be alone (at times feeling as if I would suffocate).  I could not focus on work (I had to take an extended break).  I tried to distract myself with entertainment, but that only brought short-lived relief.  I wanted to disengage from the rhythms of life (friends, church, work, etc.) but forced myself to reengage.  My entire being was consumed by my burden of grief.

My grief came from being unable to raise my son.  I will never get to change his diapers, see him take his first steps, hear him speak his first words, watch him graduate from school, get married, have kids, or tell him about Jesus and how much God loves him.

I will remember Beckham every day of my life for the rest of my life.  I will always think about what he would be doing if he were here with us.  I will get through my grief, but I will never get over my son.  Some have compared it to having a limb of your body amputated…although you heal, you are never the same again.

Our community surrounded us with love during our time of loss.   Helping with the practical needs of the family like food, house-cleaning, and childcare allowed us time to grieve.  My sister gave us a beautiful evergreen scented candle.  This gift led us to plant an evergreen tree in our backyard to celebrate his due date.

During this time, I read Is God to Blame?  by Greg Boyd.  He writes that the death of a child is a “mystery about creation and not a mystery about God’s character.”  In other words, don’t blame God and let go of the WHY question.  You don’t have to confuse the hurt with the Healer.  He loves you, loves your child, and knows what you’re feeling.  Things won’t always go the way that we think they should, but it is true that God will be there with us every step of the way. Trust in God’s goodness and remember that the Day is coming when all things will be made new.

Sensing God’s gracious touches at every point in my grief helped me in my journey.  I have felt God’s presence at every step.  He hears every note of my lament and graciously met my pain in ways that heal me.

On December 26, 2011 at 4 AM, as I stood sobbing in the ER, I realized the truth that God knows what it is like to lose a Son.  I spoke it out loud as I stood huddled in the arms of the hospital chaplain.  I say it again in the moments when I feel the darkness overwhelming me.  For the darkness cannot overcome the truth of the light (John 1:6).

I will get through the experience of grief, but I will never get over my son!  I will think of him EVERYDAY of my life till I get to meet him in heaven.  The theme of my second year since Beckham’s stillbirth has been to ARISE.  I sense God showing me that I can arise from my grief and dare to hope that life will be beautiful again.

In my journey, a year was just the beginning.  In order to fully embrace the grief process, you must be patient with yourself.  Only you know how long and in what ways you need to grieve to heal and find that new normal.

For those of you who are in the midst of your own journey.  Please know that you will heal.  And although you won’t be the same person, you will find a new normal.  Keep your head up as much as possible, for even in the midst of pain there are moments of hope, comfort, peace.

Written by Bret Deneson and Dr. G. David Boyd