The Things We Don't Say

Where can teenagers ask questions that challenge their faith, and know that they will be listened to?

Communication & Cooperation March 8, 2021

I love teaching in the Adventist system because it allows me to say things that I find difficult to express in other places. I love puzzling over the Bible and talking about God as the alpha and omega when we study history’s timelines. My favourite chat with my students is about the physical size of God when we study astronomy. I always tell my students, “God became man so that we could understand Him as people; He became small for us!” When I think about God’s size in relation to mine, I realize how little I can actually perceive of God and I begin to wonder about the things we are not saying, the conversations we are not having.

John Koenig has been making words for the unsayable on his website and Youtube channel, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. My favourite entry is the word “sonder.”

sonder
n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

This word makes me think about all the things we leave unexplored under the surface. An anthill is infinitely more interesting on the inside. As an Adventist teacher, I feel it is important to talk to my students about complexities and nuances. In a time when we are so profoundly disconnected from one another, I think it is more important than ever for teachers and parents to talk about the things we don’t say. These are conversations about death, faith, love, and suffering. In having these conversations, I hope we can convey that the complexity they experience is shared by those around them; that the questions they have about God, life, love, death, have equally complex answers.

I’ve been having difficult conversations with my students, and many of them have extremely strong opinions with no space in which to talk about them. Where do we turn for answers when our questions seem to challenge what we believe? Where can teenagers ask questions that challenge their faith, and know that they will be listened to? Is there any space in our church for young people to ask questions that challenge their faith? Should our schools not be these spaces?

Students are terrified of failure, judgement, and the future – and why shouldn’t they be? Adults don’t talk about those things because, secretly, we are terrified, too. Fear, just like loss, is not solved when we talk about it, but it gives us the feeling of ‘sonder,’ an understanding that someone else is terrified too and maybe, together, we can learn about that fear. I think our schools should be a place for difficult conversations. When students talk about the most challenging questions in life, in a space where God is already a focus, it transforms the discussion and strengthens their foundation. Maybe, by way of sonder, the realization that someone else hurts and questions in their own complex way lets me open my eyes to see my own hurt and questioning. Maybe, when we say the things we don’t say, and spend time with those things, we might just find that God is there too. Afterall, He breathed the stars; I don’t think any of my questions are too big for Him. 

Author

Annina, MFA, is currently teaching High School Humanities with West Coast Adventist School. She is also the High School Fine Arts teacher for Deer Lake Adventist school and is currently working on completing her PhD in Arts Education through Simon Fraser University.

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