Friday, April 9, 2010

Stand in the Gap

Over the years my wife and I have been involved in the lives of many troubled souls, especially teenagers and young adults.  One thing that seems consistent in those who have come to us is that there are difficulties in their families.

Today I heard from yet another person who suffered for years in an inappropriate home environment.  She says it was only when a friend invited her to a sleepover at the friend's home that she learned that the way she grew up was not good.  And though she was removed to a foster home after that, she has continued to suffer the effects of her growing up years throughout her life.  She has been through various treatment programs, has come to peace with God and has led a fairly successful life.  Now she is around retirement age--but still there are still times when the darkness closes in for her and she needs a listening ear and a caring shoulder to cry on.

We all need friends and compassionate Christian helpers in our life.  This is particularly true when there is trouble at home---when shouting and cursing are commonplace, when physical, sexual or emotional abuse occurs, or when our common need for tender loving care is neglected.

Some families, some friends and even some counselors tell those who are suffering that they need to "toughen up" and "handle things" on their own.  The trouble is that often causes pain to be buried deep inside one's mind or heart or soul, and such buried pain causes terrible consequences later on.  This is one of the roots, I believe, of the Biblical concept of "iniquity" carrying through the generations.  Many times, though certainly not always, mental illnesses can be traced to painful circumstances in childhood.  And many times parents who neglect the needs of their children, or hurt them, were victims themselves earlier in their lives.

Usually this suffering is buried at home and kept behind closed doors.  Many times it seems "normal" or "tolerable" to the family themselves or even to outside observers, whether they be extended family members or caring neighbors.  A veneer of respectability often covers the truth.  Families normally want to present a favorable impression to others, and that is particularly true when there is pain.

This is similar, I think to how a callus forms when skin becomes tough and thick "in response to repeated friction, pressure, or other irritation."  The callus can be attached to the whole family system, or to the individual who has suffered, making them tough and hard--causing them to close in upon themselves.

But God calls us to love our neighbors, not to just assume that everything is fine.  God calls us to a life of love--and love does not first just tell someone to "put up and shut up."  First, love listens, cares, and tries to make a difference.  And when no immediate difference is possible, loving people and loving families become refuges for those in pain.  So many people, including the older woman I talked with today, have sincerely benefited from "outsiders" who are just there to care, to listen, to pray--and to provide an example of what a truly caring home can be.

I am so thankful for all who "stand in the gap" for those who suffer for any reason, but particularly for children and youth who are so vulnerable, who have no "rights" of their own, and who are so often misunderstood.  If you are suffering in your family, I encourage you to talk with a caring friend or neighbor.  You need to know you are not alone.

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