If that sounds overly-dramatic, then you haven't lived through the nightmare of a wayward child.
There are no words that can accurately portray the absolute agony parents endure when the child they've nurtured from infancy sets out to destroy herself. It is similar to the death of that child, except this death 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?
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 treasured since infancy, taught the Scriptures, and instilled with a sense of right and wrong.
- 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 ten 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..."
In the next 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 email@example.com. You're not alone. I understand.
I've been there.