Jan, my wife and I, have been married a number of years. We started dating in the ninth grade. I tell people all the time that it was after we went to a Christian concert, following our ninth-grade year where we got together. The concert was Led Zeppelin.
That was our first date. After we got married years later, probably 10, 15 years after we got married, I was stunned by her announcement one day when she just said, there’s something I need to talk to you about. I thought I knew everything about my wife, but she surprised me when she said that she wanted to go see a counselor. I knew Jan and our history, but I did not know the depth of the pain that she had felt and like a typical male I had no idea what she was talking about. Tearfully, she began to explain the sense of loss she’s felt from sexual abuse that she experienced as a child. She realized that she needed to deal with that loss and, she was worn out from her constant attempts to manage the feelings and hurts from years earlier.
These events stick with a woman and I had a front row seat at watching the effects of sexual abuse. From an early age a lady who has her life together, loves the Lord, loves people, loves kids was fighting depression. She had relational issues in her family that no one had dealt with and everyone quietly avoided it like many families do. She felt unsettled in her head and in her heart. We started to go to counseling, you know, I thought it was just for her. I really found out that after a while it was for both of us. Then I found out that it was really for me. We made the decision for her sake, but it became an opportunity for the both of us.
I watched her counselor peel back these layers of emotion in Jan’s life. I began to see how her loss played such an integral role in her existence and in our relationship. The counseling process lasted almost 18 months. I thought we were going to go and get it fixed within a month. Little did I know that it would take that long… We drove two hours each way. We’d leave Longview, Texas, go to Dallas and spend two hours with a counselor and go out to eat. There were times that I absolutely loved it and there were times that I absolutely hated it.
Jan would look at me and we’d be arguing in the car after a counseling session. She would say, I’m getting out of the car right now. And I would look at her and go, not yet, honey, let me speed up. I mean it, counseling just had an amazing way of bringing things out good and bad. They all rise to the surface and you have to deal with them. When we were in counseling, I loved learning how we were wired differently and how various things in our lives molded our thinking, our behaviors and our interactions with each other.
I hated the pain that came out of it for Jan and for me individually and as a couple. I learned so many things, including the way that we handle loss by filling the emptiness with things that don’t last. Jan’s recognition, the futility of her efforts to fill those voids, moved her to a desperate point of pain, causing her to question her current state and longing for something different.
In my years of working with struggling teens, which is now up around 45 years, I’ve seen the same thing over and over in young ladies who were sexually abused. I know that the question that people ask all the time is why does my child do what they do? What I’ve really found is that so much of the behavior that we see, appropriate and inappropriate, is founded in the losses in somebody’s life and the attempt to fill those losses and voids. Eventually people get to the point where they just shut down and say, I can’t do this anymore.
There was a young lady named Anna. She was sexually abused by her grandfather for years, it started at age two and lasted until she was 12 or 13 years old. All of a sudden, one of her friends heard her innocently share what her grandfather was doing to her. This sweet little friend told Anna that she should tell their mother and she did. And that was it. At least for a while. As Anna matured, she began to understand more fully the violation of her body during those earlier years. The older, she got the more furious she became, and she exerted more and more effort to counteract the damage that her grandfather had caused in her. She wore herself out trying to prove to herself that he had no more control over her. And that she was more than what her grandfather’s abuse told her she was.
Every time he committed an act of abuse, he was sending a message to Anna. It was a message that became clear as the years passed. It was a message of disregard and disrespect, of deceit and brainwashing. It was basically saying you’re trash, and I can use you. This horrific luring of an innocent girl into his perversion, essentially set-in motion a way of thinking that almost destroyed this young lady. The response to this kind of abuse is not what most people think. I learned years ago from a fellow named Dan Olander, who wrote the book called Hope for the Wounded Heart, that girls respond to sexual abuse by becoming party girls, bad girls or good girls. Anna chose to take the good girl route. She felt compelled to prove the message her grandfather communicated countless times through the years was wrong and she was going to make herself perfect. She set out to be valued, adored and honored but Anna couldn’t do it by herself.
All her efforts could not quite fill the emptiness caused by a selfish uncontrolled man. As a result, she lived in a world of frustration and quiet rage trying to erase the message she received for years. She just couldn’t quite do it. I’ve come to believe that loss of any kind is one of the greatest motivators for behavior. It is why so many teens do what they do. The cause-and-effect style of living is a response to damage done to us rather than a fulfillment of God’s purpose in us. If we allow him, God can use it all for our benefit, He takes what was meant for evil and uses it for good. We’re promised that throughout Scripture.
Loss impacts how we live, and teens are truly no exception. Nobody cares more about their teen than moms, but even moms can get discouraged and distracted when watching their teen goes through those difficult adolescent years. You can feel alone and helpless, unable to know how to encourage your teen. It can get hard to trust God’s goodness in the midst of such hard times.
When I talk about loss, I’m talking about voids in someone’s life that come from not getting what you need, what you want, or what you hope for. It’s a chasm in the heart caused by deprivation, a failure to achieve something or a possible defeat that you experienced. It’s the hollowness you’re unable to overcome. It’s the pit of loneliness that remains when something is taken away. In times of loss, the gospel message is greatly needed. One of the greatest acts that I believe that God performs for a person who experiences loss is to fill the voids and the chasms created by that loss and give true freedom that only comes in a relationship with Christ.
The hole in Anna’s life caused by sexual abuse could not be filled by anything she did or did not do. It could only be filled by God. And how does He do it? I have no idea. But I just know that He does. When Anna allowed him to do His work in her, she no longer had to waste her time trying to fill voids. Instead, she was able to fulfill her purpose in life, acknowledge His thumbprint on her life and accept the role he called her to fill.
After one of our seminars a 41-year-old man came up to me and said, Hey, all my life, I’ve had to overcome one comment that was made to me. When I was in the sixth grade, a teacher barked out a harsh remark that belittled and humiliated this man, it happened while he was standing in front of his class. She had said “If you had as much brains as you do fat, you might make something of yourself.” I’m convinced that that teacher probably had no idea how much her one hurtful statement would negatively affect a little boy’s life. So much so that he was still trying to get its echo out of his head almost 30 years later.
This man experienced one of those profound losses, a loss of value, respect, dignity, and honor. His thinking and behavior changed. He committed to prove that teacher wrong and to show everyone that he was not fat, and he was smart. He lived from that day on with the I’ll show you mentality. He was controlled by the lie of a careless cruel teacher, rather than the one who created Him and called Him son. You know, as I say that you may have something that pops into your head from your early years. Perhaps it was a dad that told you that you were stupid, or your mom that said you were an embarrassment to the family, or maybe something that remains very deep in your soul.
Most people have experienced some kind of loss, especially today’s young people. You may have learned to live with the lie, maybe you have stuffed it down, worked hard to overcome it or healed from it. Today’s teen often doesn’t know how to combat the lies that are planted in their spirits. Their wounds are open and bleeding and their behavior shows the pain that is in their life. A father of one of the young men living with us here at Heartlight, shared how he spent most of his life, trying to live down a comment his dad made during his teen years. His dad never told him how proud he was and stated many times he didn’t think his son would amount to much. This man went on to share that he is now 50 years old and spent his whole adult life trying to please his dad. Now he realized he should have been trying to please God.
When Scripture tells us of the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians five, the last quality on this list is self-control. I’d submit to you that that concept of self-control is not about anger management or squelching lust. I believe God calls us to exercise self-control so we’re not controlled or distracted by anything that could derail us from God’s intent or purpose for us. Self-control means responding to what God has done for you. Not reacting to perhaps what others have done to you. This is an important concept to grasp, as you attempt to understand your teen’s behavior. You’ve probably had losses in your life and your child has had losses in their life. At some point you’re trying to fill your voids and they’re trying to fill their voids and we find that we’re being controlled by different things. God wants us to have self-control, but we’re allowing these other things to control us.
A lot of conflict begins to happen when a child’s not meeting the needs that I have and they’re not finding fulfillment in the needs that they have. All of those have been created by losses. It’s an important concept to grasp as you try to figure out, why does my child do that?
The things that they do, their behavior, is driven by needs. The question that you need to ask now is How has a loss in my child’s life caused a need that his behavior or her behavior is trying to fill? Scripture tells us that God is a spring of living water and you can drink all the water you want, but until you drink from Him, you will always thirst.
My efforts to satisfy my needs will only temporarily satisfy my thirst. His provision fully meets my need, ending my thirst and eliminating the need for me to find it in other things. Jeremiah 2:13 says “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” When we listen to the negative comments in the criticisms of others, we allow the lies to take root in our spirits like broken cisterns. We continue to thirst and poor in addictive behaviors and sexual promiscuity, inappropriate relationships, anything we can to try to keep up with the leaking cistern.
Only when we hear the voice of truth and allow His living water to remove the lies will our cisterns hold. I hope you’re following me here. I hope you’re picking this up and going, okay, I get it. There are losses in people’s lives, but here’s another thing, Jan and I were living at a Christian sports camp in Branson, Missouri called Kanakuk camp. We lived there during the eighties and had an incredibly wonderful time when we rubbed shoulders with people from all around the country and all walks of life. One of the greatest joys that we had was to get to know a fellow named Spike and his wife. Both have since passed away but the impact that they had on Jan and I will never be forgotten. Spike was an 80 something year old man, that kind of took me under his wing. He made everyone feel valuable, especially me. I had a bunch of opportunities to dive into deep discussions with him on why kids do what they do and what gets them off track and how to work with kids who were struggling.
I’ll never forget a statement that he made that appeared in a lot of camp literature. He said this, “the moods of a lifetime are often set in the all but forgotten events of childhood”. Spike wanted people to have great opportunities during their early years, that would help mold their character, their destiny and purpose in life. His statement remains a timely truth. Childhood events have the power to positively or negatively affect a person’s whole life.