As a parent, watching your teen suffer can be excruciating. The life-threatening nature of extreme behaviors such as addictions, eating disorders, and self-injury can intensify a parent’s pain. But by God’s grace, we can walk alongside those we love — even our own precious children — peeling back behavior patterns to discover how the light of the Gospel can affect the underlying pain and desires of their hearts.
You Don’t Have To Be a Professional
In his presentation on the topic of “Restoring Broken People and the Limits of Life in the Body,” counselor and author Ed Welch explains the mounting tension between the worlds of psychology and ministry. His purpose is not to completely devalue the place of medical professionals — or the elimination of psychiatric research.
When we’re dealing with physical issues relating to addictions and other troubling behaviors, utilizing professional help may well prove necessary. At the same time, we need to come alongside those who are suffering and demonstrate the same kind of patient, long-suffering love that our Heavenly Father gives us.
God’s Word Has Something To Say
When it comes to complicated issues such as addictions, eating disorders, and self-injury, there are usually many contributing factors. Sometimes peer influence and mere curiosity were primary contributions at first, but now the physical reality of addictive chemicals continue the cycle well after those motivations are gone.
Regardless of whether the heart issues are apparent, we can take God at His Word when He says that it has the unique power to “discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Further, it makes a clear connection between the repeated ruminations of our hearts and minds and our behaviors: We act out of “the abundance of the heart” (Luke 6:45).
The Best Place To Start Is To Listen
Where there are troubling behaviors, there are troubled hearts, troubled souls. Counseling doesn’t have to be done by a professional, but it does require patience and is not the same as “preaching.” First, we have to listen, and listen well (James 1:19).
As author Ann Voskamp suggests in our online interactions, we must approach others with empathy: “When we listen to words, not to shoot them down, but to open us up — Grace can walk in. When we listen to words not to indict them but to inform us, they can form us into a cup of understanding. This quenches the world’s parched places.”
If we want to reach into the “parched places” in our children’s hearts, we have to be willing to listen without judgment.
As a troubled teen opens up the gaping heart-wounds and flawed interpretations that have led to attempts to control or relieve or numb it all, your heart might ache even more than before, as you realize the part you’ve played in this story. You may need to repent. Or correct misperceptions. Or seek professional counsel or medical intervention. But initially, let this first step unfold for a while and watch the darkness of suffering-born behaviors come into the light.