Updated: Oct 18
They looked like the all-American family: Tom, the smiling pastor of a loving church, and his supportive wife. The guidance and care they provided for their only son, Matt, shone through in his demeanor and above-average grades in school.
But this picture of happiness crumbled as Matt turned the corner from adolescence. Gradually, his teenage behavior deteriorated. Not only did his grades drop with a thud, but he also became angry and violent, lashing out at his family.
Stressed out, Sandra felt relieved on occasions when Matt left the house, mumbling, “I’m going to see a friend.” Of course, had she known that the friend happened to be her son’s marijuana supplier, her peace would have flared into panic.
Despite Matt’s efforts to hide the truth, it became too blatant to ignore. Afraid for their son’s safety, concerned for what his future held, and overcoming the fear of what their congregation might say, Tom and Sandra sought help. They took him to Cameron Boys Camp, one of the specialized ministries operated by the Baptist Children’s Homes.
There they learned that it was not just Matt who had a problem. The whole family had to resolve the issues that had torn them apart.
Like other campers, Matt checked in with emotional and behavioral baggage that was too heavy to lug around at home. He would spend the next two years releasing those feelings as he canoed hundreds of miles, backpacked to remote areas, and swam in rivers, lakes, and the ocean.
Soon after Matt arrived, a case manager discovered the source of his anger. When Matt was a toddler, his father had a drug problem which caused marital separation.
Although the father overcame his addiction, turned to God, and reconciled his marriage, the scars remained. As Matt grew older, he also grew further from Tom. Like his father, he struggled to control his temper.
It took the passage of time—coupled with intense personal effort and numerous counseling sessions—to reconcile the family. Father and son learned how to agree and disagree.
Sandra saw her role in the situation, explaining, “We think as parents, ‘Camp will fix the boys and send them home when they are finished,’ but it doesn’t work that way. We told Matt, ‘It’s not just you; we are all going to set goals.’ We all had something to learn.”
This family set a new course, headed in the right direction. Matt returned home. He and his father enjoy fishing together and it gives them quiet time to talk about the goals they set earlier.
But this improved state of affairs easily could have ended in disaster. His parents could have allowed fears of damaged pride, inconvenience, or possible social reprisals to bottle up the truth. Sooner or later, ignoring brewing trouble is like lighting a stick of dynamite.
People often are reluctant to seek help for emotional, psychological, family, or marital problems. Always trying to put on a happy face, retreating into a state of denial. While denial can help one temporarily cope, it is foolish to pitch a tent in never-never land.
Earlier in my career, I counseled couples with troubled marriages—or at least I tried. I cannot count how many times that a marriage was on the rocks and one party (usually the husband) would say, “Ah, I don’t need that. If she wants to go, that’s fine, but I’ll just gut it out.”
Sadly, divorce continues to tighten its grip on our society, when many marriages could be salvaged if the couple would just ask for help. While there are numerous factors behind divorce, a leading problem is communication. When these channels are clogged, the match is in trouble.
It reminds me of a cartoon I saw once that showed a husband and wife sitting together at the breakfast table, sipping coffee. The wife is thinking, “Our marriage is in trouble. We better talk about it.” The husband is thinking, “Our marriage is in trouble. I better keep my mouth shut.”
No matter what the problem, take time to discuss it with a trusted friend, confidant, counselor, or other adviser. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
In recent decades, society has made progress at getting past the all-American embrace of pride and self-reliance. Still, we have not conquered the problem. Too many people lead lives of quiet desperation. They get out of bed, go to work, breathe, and eat, but life holds little joy, or fulfillment.
Sometimes, getting to the next level, whether in a job, a marriage, a relationship, or even just a hobby, takes more resources than you possess. So why not seek out those who can help instead of turning away from them?
You would not try to set a broken arm at home with an old tree limb for a splint or operate on yourself to remove a ruptured appendix. Nor should you allow personal problems to afflict you like migraine headaches. Look for those who can help you overcome them — and then act.
Written by Dr. Michael C. Blackwell, president/CEO of Baptist Children's Homes