Thursday, November 1, 2007

Tough Love

I remember when I first had Bryan stay with us. Short, shy, somewhat paranoid, but desperately loyal. Really screwed up. Sometimes he couldn’t give you a coherent sentence. He had a stealing habit that never ended—never from individuals, mind you, only big stores because that wasn’t really stealing. He made me so mad sometimes at how morally idiotic he was.
I remember one time how he would go into a fast food place and ask for a “complimentary cup.” They would give him a water cup and then he would fill it with soda and go for seconds. I told him that it was stealing and he said, “No, it’s not. I asked for a complimentary cup didn’t I?”
He was a homeless drug addict, using mostly meth. He would help us out in the kitchen sometimes, when we met in the Salvation Army building. Nice enough guy. Had two boys whom he missed desperately.
One day he was sleeping in his van and God gave him a vision. He saw Jesus, holding out his hands to him and calling him to come. He told me about this and I told him that Jesus had put his mark upon him. He said, “But I’m stuck on drugs. I don’t know what to do.” At this point I gave him my first lecture (one of many, I’m afraid): “Look, you can keep the way you are and die, a pointless existence. Or you can come to Jesus and I will help you in every way I can.” It was about a week later he lost his van and called me up in desperation to get some help.
I put him in a Christian treatment house and paid $400 for him to get in. A pretty good treatment, but difficult to live through. Finally, Bryan got kicked out after a few months because he refused to “rat out” one of his fellow roommates. So he went back out on the street to use meth.
There is one thing about Bryan that has saved him again and again—the Holy Spirit. The Spirit just convicts him, and if there’s one thing that Bryan can’t handle is conviction. He’s ready to confess and repent at the drop of a hat. So he couldn’t stay away for long, with the hand of the Spirit so heavy on him. So he came to me and I welcomed him in.
This is what I was thinking, “He’s already got a job and a good start, so we’ll have him in for a few months and then he’ll get out on his own.” Diane said, “We’ll see.” Oh, I was so naïve. But naïve or not, I knew that if I sent him back to the street he would use and die in a short time.
But how was I to know that he would stay with us for seven years?
It didn’t take long for him to lose the job and for us to set him up permanently on the porch of our two bedroom apartment. Others would come and go, but Bryan stayed. Well, kind of stayed. He would sometimes go back out for a week, then come back, red-faced and repentant. He would help me out on runs, and eventually became our babysitter.
His main characterization was losing control, giving into drugs, having the Spirit convict him and then he would repent sincerely and passionately. But never permanently. Any job he had was just money in his pocket which he couldn’t control. If he didn’t use, he would drink alcohol. Eventually his drug habit disappeared and it was replaced with a drinking habit.
Nevertheless, he was always there when we needed him. He was ever faithful to the work he would do for us, even if he didn’t feel well enough to do it. He was an integral part of our house. I couldn’t imagine him leaving, actually. What would we do for babysitting? Who would cook Wednesday’s meal?
But eventually, events came to a head. Bryan’s drinking was getting worse and it was affecting others in the house. Maybe it always did and I was just too blind to see it. I liked him so much and he was such a part of the house. But one day, after a binge that everyone noticed, I gave him a 30 day notice. I said that he had to change or he had to leave. Usually when I gave him an ultimatum, he stepped up to the plate and did as I asked. For a while, anyway.
This time he wouldn’t. Or couldn’t. I don’t know which. I know he doesn’t know. Thirty days went by and he still went out once a week to drink. At the thirty day mark he helped me fix my van (again). He said, “So what about that letter?” He was staying overnight at someone else’s house and I told him, “Let’s talk about it tomorrow.” He didn’t show up the next day. Or the next. I talked to him after a few days and said that he would have to move.
He and I wept. We just couldn’t handle it. When Diane saw him next, she wept as well. Bryan got his stuff and moved to a tent in someone’s backyard. It was so hard. Possibly the hardest thing I have ever done in my first 12 years of ministry. And I hope I’ll never have to do anything again so gut wrenching for as long as I live.
One of the strangest thing in this whole episode is my kid’s reaction. I took them aside and told them that Bryan was moving out for good. They just shrugged and went back to what they were doing. They seemed so callus, so hard hearted. Is this the kind of kids I was raising?
Especially Mercy. How could she be so accepting of this? Bryan helped raise her for her first 6 and a half years. She never knew the family without Bryan. And this was just normal, everyday stuff? Perhaps, I thought, it is because we have had so many people live with us for a day, a week, a month or a year and then leave. Maybe they just assumed that he would leave too. Still, I was wondering, did I raise unfeeling monsters?
Then, about two months after Bryan had left, he and she were playing at church. Bryan eventually moved into the church, he got out his anger against me and we have a more mature relationship. He asked for forgiveness for his drinking and he said that since he left the house, the compulsion to drink was just about gone. For the first time in his life, he can say no to both alcohol and drugs and not even feel a twinge. God has taken possession of him and won’t let go. Not that He ever would.
Anyway, Bryan and Mercy were playing ball for about an hour. I picked my family up, and Bryan stayed at the church. All of a sudden, it hit Mercy and she just bawled. I asked her what was wrong, but she couldn’t speak. But Diane and I knew. She wasn’t any kind of monster. It just took her a bit to process. Now she knew that Bryan was gone forever because he was staying and not coming with us as he had done her whole life.
To do the right thing isn’t easy. This is not to say that I’m a believer in “tough love”. Usually I find that “tough love” is just an excuse to lay down the hard line that the victim of such “love” can’t live up to. Tough love usually is a setup for failure.
But I remember Sarah at one point telling Abraham that he had to send Hagar away. Abraham didn’t want to do it, but he was torn between what was right for Hagar and what was right for Sarah. God commanded him to listen to his wife, and that God would help Hagar. At first, all went the very worst. Hagar and her son, Ishmael, were dying of thirst. But God, at this point of crisis, proved Himself reliable.
This is how I really see tough love working. Doing the hard thing, not because you want to but because God is telling you to. We can do it if we have God’s assurances that everything would turn out according to His plan. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. There will be tears and broken hearts. But if the pain turns to rejoicing and righteousness, it is all good in the end.

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