Note to the Teacher
This week’s passage would be easy if it were not for one word: “always.” Verse four says “be glad in the Lord.” That would be simple enough if it didn’t say “always” right after that sentence. We will discover that the key is learning how to rejoice, even in times of anxiety. We don’t ignore the things that produce anxiety, but we work to bring about positive things in the midst of anxiety and focus on the positive rather than the negative.
1. Ice Breaker: Things I Never Thought I Would Miss Before the Pandemic (10 minutes)
The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 changed life drastically all over the world. This exercise will focus on finding things that we hadn’t noticed were good in our lives until they were gone. There’s a song originally by Joni Mitchell called “Big Yellow Taxi” that contains the verse “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” (This song has been covered several times. If time allows, you could watch or listen to a version of the song using an online service like YouTube.) Explain to students that we are going to go around the circle and name things that we never thought (or never knew) we would miss before the pandemic. These should be things that you didn’t realize you enjoyed until they were gone. For example, things like “hanging out with friends” is less specific and therefore less helpful than things like “seeing people’s mouths when they talk.”
Go around the room and let each student answer the question, “What is something you never thought you’d miss before the pandemic?” Invite students to raise their hands in agreement whenever someone names something they feel the same way about. This activity works in person or online with little modification.
2. Read Scripture (5 minutes)
Read Philippians 4:1-9
3. Discussion (15 minutes)
This passage has three sections: verses 1-3; verses 4-7; and verses 8-9. Begin by splitting the group into three smaller groups to read the verses (or assign each section to a different person with a smaller group). Ask each group to determine the main ideas in each section and share them with the group. If using Zoom to meet online, consider using the “breakout group” function if it is available to you.
- Section 1 talks about a broken relationship. Relationships with other Christians are one of the main ways we keep pressing on in our faith. When has someone in your life helped you through a difficult time?
- Section 2 talks about being glad always and then proceeds to talk about anxiety. Paul is asking us to be glad, even when things are creating a lot of anxiety in our lives. What is hard about being glad when things aren’t great?
- Paul says to pour our anxieties out to God in prayer. So, what is on your mind today? What is making you feel anxious? (Give students time to make a list together. Make sure someone writes down the responses.) Once students have shared their anxieties, have a time of prayer where you name the anxieties out loud. Don’t make the prayer about God taking away or minimizing the anxiety. Give the list weight – see below. Consider repeating this question and activity in the “Activity and Discussion” time. If significant anxiety issues are shared, be prepared to connect with congregational care specialists.
- Section 3 almost feels like the start of a new thought. How would you summarize what verses 8 and 9 ask us to do?
- Have you ever done any action listed in verses 8 and 9 in a difficult time? What was the result?
- This is not saying to ignore the difficult things that make us anxious. It is about choosing not to dwell on those things. How do we end up dwelling on the difficult things in our lives?
4. Activity and Discussion (20 minutes)
One of the ways to “be glad always” is learning how to deal with things that make us anxious without ignoring them. Some of the things that affect us include broken relationships, mentioned at the beginning of this passage. We can work to mend broken relationships. Some things are beyond our control. However, if we look hard enough, we can find a silver lining in the things we cannot fix. For example, even though the pandemic has been bad, there are some good things that the drastic changes have allowed.
Before you pass out the rocks (see below), take out the list of difficult things you made in the end of the discussion and go through each one, answering one or both of these questions:
- What is something someone our age could do about this?
- What is a silver lining?
Once you have finished the questions, give each student a rock and markers or paint. Tell them they are going to create reminders to focus on the good in life. Ask each student to choose one of the things that makes him/her feel anxious. On one side of the rock, students will write the thing causing anxiety; on the other side, they will write either what they can do or the silver lining.
Once students have completed their rocks, invite them to say a prayer with the anxiety side up, asking God to help them find a way to be glad always. When they have finished with their prayers, ask them to turn the rocks over to the positive side.
This activity works online as well, either with real rocks or pieces of paper. Encourage youth to remember the action and silver lining whenever they come across their rock or paper this week.
Total time: 50 minutes
- One rock per student
- Markers or paint and paint brushes.