Jamal was born into a dysfunctional home. He told me that he did not remember a time when his parents were not arguing. He is 14-years old, almost 15. He said there were many nights when he would curl up in his bed, hug his bear-y, and cry himself to sleep.
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Patricia, his mother, brought him to counseling because she did not know how to deal with him any longer. Jamal had been acting out lately, and as Patricia said, “I’m at my wit’s end. I can’t do this anymore.” Jamal represents a conundrum in the counseling world:
- He was partly messed up by his parents,
- He was partly messed up by Adam,
- He was partly messed by himself,
- And he was sent to a counselor to be fixed, so he could return home and live non-rebelliously in his parent’s home–the ones who were partially at fault.
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Truthfully, Jamal cannot be fixed and sent back into his chaotic home. That is a bridge too far: He cannot be expected to live a peaceable life, while waiting until he turns 18 so he can go to college.
Yes, there is grace for Jamal, and he can receive a degree of help but the problems he is experiencing do not reside exclusively with him. Jamal’s problems are a manifestation of the systemic problems that are in his home. To truly fix the problems, the parents will have to be fixed too.
Though I have counseled children in the conundrum that Jamal is in, it has always been essential for the parents to understand the full extent of the situation. If they expect a counselor to untangle in two hours or even six months what they have spent a decade or more helping to tangle, then they will be disappointed.
With that as a disclaimer about parental participation, I met with Jamal to talk to him about God, life, home, hope, and the future. It was a delightful conversation. Kids like Jamal are almost always open and ready for someone to love them, care for them, and offer hope-filled and practical care. Jamal was no exception.
- I found him to be articulate, humorous, smart, ready, and willing to talk about his life.
- I also found him to be deeply hurt, angry, and hopeless about the life he is living, and the life he expects to live in the future.
As with all the folks that I meet with, I draw pictures to illustrate spiritual truths. Jesus was the Master Illustrator, who seemingly could take any physical/concrete idea and connect it to the abstract/spiritual parts of our lives. (See Matthew 5:19, 5:24, 5:26, 5:28)
Thus, I began to sketch out a few physical ideas for Jamal to help him see a few spiritual realities in his life. Here is a representation of four separate sketches I made for Jamal.
#1 – An Escape Route
Jamal’s tendency in his home is to retreat inside YouTube. What this means is that the only escape he can find to get away from the chaos in his home is to watch endless videos on YouTube.
The arrows in the top left picture represent the anger from his parents: the criticisms and harshness from his dad and the general barbs that are flung around his home. Jamal says the barb-throwing is relentless. He cannot escape it, unless he hides inside YouTube.
He knows it’s not right to retreat, but he feels hopeless and desperate. The retreating protects him from the constant disappointments. The real truth is that he feels like a prisoner inside his home. The technique that he has used to escape in order to protect himself has become his jail. He is incarcerated, which is part of the reason why he is so angry.
On the outside–in his home–the bombs are dropping. While on the inside–his YouTube prison–he is growing in frustration. His only hope is for Christ to break into his incarceration to make a divine rescue.
I did ask him if he ever prayed about his circumstances. He said he has prayed many times. That is when I wrote the word “help” inside his little self-imposed prison. I further encouraged him by telling him that God is answering his prayers, which is evidenced by our meeting.
#2 – Too Many Voices
For clarity sake, I decided to illustrate what he was telling me another way. Jamal told me that he would love to know God, but there is so much chaos in his life, that God’s voice is hard to hear.
Not only is he in prison, but he is a little person in a big loud world and the “voice” of God is pretty much muted. That is what you see in the second sketch–note the little God in the right hand corner.
The mean and unkind people (his parents) are real big in Jamal’s life and he feels very small and helpless. This is another cause of his anger, in addition to his self-imposed prison.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? – James 4:1
Jamal has a passion to be set free, but he knows he is living in some kind of “childhood prison sentence” from which he cannot escape. Unfortunately his parents will not see or understand all the roots to his anger. They only perceive it as a rebellious pre-teen, who is not getting his way.
While there is some truth to their assessment, they are tragically missing a major point: They are culpable actors in this drama. Yes, Jamal has to answer for his sins of anger and rebellion, which we talked about during counseling, but his parents have to recognize the roles they are playing in the drama.
#3: A Bigger God
There is really no need to ever ask a person if they are controlled by something or someone because we all are controlled by something. That’s a given. A condition of being finite dependent creatures compels us to find security outside of ourselves.
Currently in Jamal’s world he is painfully controlled by the chaotic people in his life, namely his parents. Their anger, his sins, the unremitting disappointments, and the mounting tensions are muting the good purposes of God that they all could be enjoying.
I began to talk to Jamal about the real solution: He needed a bigger God. The process of accomplishing this was for him to recognize the problems sketched in out pics 1 and 2, which he did perceive, and then develop a plan to contextualize himself into a biblical solution, represented by pic three–a bigger God.
The bright spot in all of this is that Jamal attends weekly church meetings and he has made friends with the children’s ministry director at their local church. His parents do not attend this local church, but they allow him to go with Scotty, his neighbor buddy.
I talked to Jamal about Jesus, and how He also lived in a loud, nasty, and un-remorseful world. We talked a while about the Savior’s life and how others did not just dislike Him, but they despised Him, even to the point of putting Him to death (Isaiah 53:2-3).
This resonated with Jamal. He began to believe the truth about Jesus, right before my eyes. It was a beautiful thing to watch. He was learning about someone who walked a similar path and understood the challenges that he was experiencing (Hebrews 4:15).
#4 – Faith That Loves
Jamal had “faith” for only one thing because he did not know any other way to respond to his life’s circumstances. He “believed” the best way to deal with the chaos in his life was to run from it, which is what pic #1 illustrates.
You cannot know what you cannot know, and Jamal did not know much about God. He knew no other way to respond. He definitely did not know enough to “believe” in God in such a way that it renewed his mind and gave him different responses to his parents (Ephesians 4:23-24). He could only believe in his own methods (self-reliant hiding) in order to survive (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
However, the more we talked about the sympathizing Savior, the more his heart was drawn to a new way, a new solution–a new kind of faith that relies in God.
The hard part for Jamal was going to be the challenge of living out this new kind of faith in a dysfunctional home. Trusting in his methods versus trusting in the Savior were radically different choices. What will it be: hiding inside YouTube or learning how to hide in Christ?
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. – Colossians 3:2-3
He said, kinda sarcastically, that he would have an opportunity to choose God’s way over his way as soon as his mother returns to pick him up. His smirky observation was insightful, and he was correct.
The counseling office is a controlled setting; it is a safe place–a place where a person like Jamal can come to talk in peace, order, and safety.
The challenge with almost all counselees is that when the session is over, the person will have to re-enter the chaos of their lives. This is where the challenge to make moment-to-moment right decisions for Christ will be exponentially more difficult.
Jamal was a realist. I am too. My heart was sad for him. Though he had gained biblical clarity about his problems and though he knew what to do about them, he was well-aware that it would be a journey that he would have to make without his parents.
From a Position of Power
Take one last look at Pic #3. The final and lasting point I wanted to make to Jamal was that if he could, by the grace of God, hear, believe, and praise God in the midst of his chaos, then God would become bigger and the chaotic people in his life would be brought down to size.
They would be reduced to the point where they would no longer have power over him. Their words would not hurt as much or as often. His temptation to run and hide would begin to have less control over his mind. His internal frustration levels would slowly subside.
Though he would continue to be controlled by something, the difference would be the something: It would be God controlling him.
Should this happen, then Jamal would be working from a position of power–God’s power working through him. Rather than being “affected” by what his parents were doing to him, he would be empowered to influence his parents. That is the power of Christ in us.
You cannot need someone and love someone at the same time. One desire will always be stronger than the other. Up to this point in Jamal’s life, he has needed his parents to be loving and civil. If they weren’t, then he would run and hide, and because his need for their love and civility was greater than the love of God working in his heart (Romans 5:8), he was not able to biblically respond to the chaos in his life.
My hope and prayer for Jamal is that he will be so connected to His heavenly Father that his “need” for his parent’s love would be substantially met through his relationship with God. If this happens, then he would be released to go on the offensive, which means doing what his parents are not doing: love God and others most of all in spite of what is going on in your life (Matthew 22:36-40).
It is possible that he could actively love his parents, rather than running from them or rebelling against them. This is how Christ was to us. It was more important for Christ to love us than for us to love Him, and it was because of this gospel truth that we began to love Him back.
We love because he first loved us. – 1 John 4:19
Call to Action
- How does the fact that God first loved you change how you think about and respond to others?
- Are you more aware of how much you need the love, affection, or affirmation of others or are you more aware of how much you can love others regardless of their merit or reciprocation?
Jamal will probably never learn a more powerful message in his life, and if he does learn and apply it, then he will be unhooked from the disappointments of disappointing people, while tethered to the unquenchable love of God.
Also published on Medium.