January 14, 2012

The Boy Within

“I want to kill you!”  The irate teenage boy is screaming into his younger sister’s face, his heart full of rage and his mouth full of threats.   I observe with horror the volatile scenario in my own living room, hoping against hope that the words don’t escalate into a physical altercation!

I have mere moments to draw upon all of my parenting experience, to frantically pray for God’s wisdom in this situation, and to decide on the best way to respond.  Should I do nothing and just hope that everything dies down on its own?  Should I calmly remind him of the proper way to express his anger?  Should I thank him for verbalizing how he feels, instead of actually acting on his emotions?  Should I demand that he go to his room until he calms down enough to apologize for his outburst?  Who is this stranger standing in my living room, and why, oh why, did God think that I could possibly be qualified to be his mother?

And how did this young man become so troubled and full of hate, anyway?  What painful experiences has he faced during his short time of earth that would cause him to lash out at those around him?  Sometimes I feel like a detective, piecing together the few clues that are available in an effort to understand the whole picture. 

I think back to the limited paperwork that I received when he was first placed in our home.  I was given very few details about his birth family’s history with some brief mention of possible mental illness, not nearly enough information to help.   And anyway, is rage hereditary?

I’ve picked up a few more clues from the rare conversations when he has allowed me to catch a glimpse into his heart.   I know he has felt mocked and belittled, ignored and sidelined.  I imagine the innocent soul of the long-ago little boy like a cup brimming and overflowing with hope and optimism.   Like boys everywhere, he probably dreamed of effortlessly flying to the moon, bravely conquering undiscovered lands, perhaps even heroically rescuing a damsel in distress.  Most of all, he would have wanted someone to listen to his ideas, to forgive his failures, and to applaud his accomplishments.

But then the disappointments and painful events descended upon his innocence.  Needs went unmet, and were replaced with an independent autonomy.  The lofty dreams were met with harsh reality.  The tears went unnoticed and then stopped altogether.  One hurtful experience after another, and slowly the hope spilled out.  When the people who were supposed to love him let him down, the cup tipped over completely, leaving him discouraged and embittered, cold and empty.

However, as deeply as he tries to hide it, that boy within is still there.  Underneath the dark clothing, the chains at his waist and spikes around his wrist, the incessant scowl, the perpetual music screaming into his earphones and the foul mouth spewing obscenities, I see that little kid who is still inside, silent and alone.  The little boy with the big dreams hasn’t really gone away after all, but is secretly hoping that someone will relentlessly search for him.

But how to can I reach him?  How can I show love to him?  If he was a baby, I would cuddle him closely and smooch his sweet face.  If he was a toddler, I could pull him onto my lap and sing gently into his soft hair.  I could even tuck an older child into his bed and tell him a story, complete with happy ending.  But how can I show this angry teenager who is taller than me that I love him?

If I could catch him in a quiet moment without his earphones in, what would I say to him?  “I want you to know that even if I can’t fully know or understand your pain, even if you won’t allow me to put my arms around you, even if I don’t have the words to express it . . . I love you.  Unfortunately, adults eventually learn that life is full of disappointments, and the people who love us will sometimes let us down; and I’m so sorry that you had to experience that at such a young age.  But I can’t change the past.  I can’t undo the pain and broken heart that has contributed to who you are today.  Believe me, I would if I could!

“However, more importantly than what I think or feel, always remember that God loves you!  He has walked beside you every moment of your young life, and He will continue to guide your future.  He sees the empty cup and is able to fill it up again.  God is able to take the broken dreams and piece them together again.  That cold, bitter heart full of rage?  God is able to replace it with one that is warm and full of joy and hope.   I wish I could use a permanent marker to write on the front of your mind that “Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 8:39)  Not a painful past.  Not loved ones who have disappointed you.  Not dreams that never materialized.  Please allow that boy within to cling tightly to God’s promise that He will never, ever stop loving you!”

At this moment, I honestly don’t know how to respond to the explosive teenager standing in my living room.  But I see the boy within, and my heart breaks for him.  I have no idea how to reach him, but I entrust him to the God who will always love him.

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