I've thought a long time about this series of posts, and believe it's time to discuss an extremely difficult subject: a time in a family's life that a few years ago I never believed would affect us. But because I meet so many others going through the same thing and recognize the pain in their eyes, I think it's time to talk about it. Someone you know is probably living this nightmare right now. Maybe it's you.
If you've never had to deal with a wayward child, there are no words that can portray the absolute agony a parent endures. It is similar to the death of that child, except this death just keeps happening over again. There is no closure, no time to dwell on happy memories, no instant empathy from everyone you know. Instead you fear that everyone is wondering what you did wrong. You wish you knew.
And for parents who've raised their children in a Christ-centered home, the sense of betrayal is overwhelming. What about the verses that say, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it?" We did everything right. How could this have turned out so wrong?
Over and over you must watch your child try to destroy herself and you are powerless to stop it. I'm not referring to the inevitable teenage attitudes or a mistake that is later rectified. This is more than a "phase."
This is a headlong race toward evil, extending over a long period of time by the child you've nurtured since infancy, taught the Scriptures, and instilled with a sense of right and wrong.
Imagine a terrorist snatching your precious child off the street right under your nose. Imagine that vicious monster holding your child by the neck, a knife to her throat, mocking you because you can do nothing to stop him. Then he leaves, dragging your baby with him. He vanishes into the night, his last words being: "You can't stop me!"
If that seems overly-dramatic, then you haven't gone through it.
One of the first emotions to hit is denial, similar to what happens with a death. This is impossible! This can't happen in our family. There's no reason for it. Surely we misunderstood. Surely it's just a phase...
Then comes a grief so great you don't think you can take it. You lie there, night after night, when sleep won't come, trying not to imagine where they are. Who's harming her right now? What's he doing to himself? Please, God, don't let the mistakes be irreparable.
Then you discover that anger is preferable to the overwhelming hurt, so rage becomes your ally. It fuels your day. Red-hot anger lets you breathe as you go through the motions of life, all the while screaming inside at the child who dared to savage you like this.
With the rage comes the dawning knowledge that the child you've loved to distraction all this time doesn't love you back. Hurt simmers just beneath the surface, but your heart can't take the enormity of that much betrayal. So anger stays and now you truly believe you could kill her with your bare hands should she dare show up. There's temporary liberation in fury, but the reckoning will come later.
Then the sense of loss echoes through your heart and house. You hear a song, pass their room, laugh at a joke, and it hits you between the eyes. Your stomach twists and all joy is sucked out of the moment.
But you're not allowed the dignity to grieve openly, as the parent of a deceased child is given. You carry on, pretending there is life inside your body, assuring everyone you are holding up all right. How can you explain the grief to someone who hasn't been there? You can't share the details that are so heinous you never imagined them spoken in the same sentence with your child's name. Shame battles with grief until you don't know what you're supposed to feel.
No, she's not dead, I don't think. I don't know. She's out there, somewhere, but the chasm between our hearts is so great it may never be bridged. My baby is gone forever.
What I've discovered since we began our personal nightmare over eight years ago is the alarming number of families going through the same thing. Although each case is different, the pain is identical. And no one is talking about it. Every parent when faced with the unthinkable feels alone: "What did we do wrong? Why would he do this to us? I'm so ashamed..."
It's time we stop hiding our pain and reach out to share it. Shared pain is a pain you can get through. It may take awhile, but you can get through it and God will use it in your life for good if you give it to Him--But it may take a while.
In tomorrow's post, I will list some steps you may find helpful if you or someone you love is dealing with this family crisis. If nothing else, I hope this series provides a hand to hold as you live through your personal nightmare.
Feel free to leave a comment or email me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org. You're not alone. I understand.
I've been there.