Wednesday, April 26, 2023

A Healing Path: Pain, Awareness, and Healing

This is my most personal blog ever, I share it with the hope and prayer that it will be helpful to others.

In the early 90s, I was the Director of the Leadership Training Institute of Episcopal Renewal Ministries. It was a great time in our lives living and working with the team of people who made up this ministry. However, one source of pain for me was my son. His life had gone off track and our relationship had gone to hell. Nothing I could say or do seemed to help him and that is a great deal of pain for a anyone but especially for a pastor. Then God did something remarkable. It became a time of grace for my family.

It Started with a Friend. I was sharing this with Sandy Greene, a close friend and colleague, when he said something that changed my life and eventually my relationship with my son. “You need to read a book and I will send you a copy,” The book was by Paul Warren and a colleague and is titled, “Kids Who Carry Our Pain.” Sandy said, “read it one chapter at a time and reflect on it.” I took his advice. I read one chapter a week. Then I would pause, reflect, and weep.

The book was written for people like me from a dysfunctional family and who were now struggling with relationships with our own children. The bottom line of this book is that healing was possible if we are willing to look at our own pain, own it, and believe that healing would come to current relationships if we let them go and faced our own truth.

“Face our “Own Truth.”  That is a phrase that has become popular in our culture. But Dr. Warren meant something quite different from the way it is used today. A good current example of what I mean is found in Prince Harry’s new book. Prince Harry’s truth is the pain that he felt in the dysfunctionality of his very public family. It’s best summarized in the title Spare. He used this to identify the pain and loneliness he experienced as a child. The title is better understood I think in another way. He meant Spare as a summary of the pain inflected on him. I think it is better seen as the lens through which he is currently viewing the events of his life. He is saying, I was treated like a spare and that is why I feel this pain. He wants the world to hear his truth.  What he doesn’t understand is that a child sees their world through the eyes of a child. One of the primary themes of Dr. Warren’s book is that children from dysfunctional families are coping with life with something significant missing from their understanding. What is this missing ingredient? No one tells us the source of the toxicity that has dominated our family.  We feel the toxic effects. We live with pain and often shame. We assume it is somehow our fault. We often see ourselves like Harry, the victims of this pain.

It must start with awareness. The first thing this book did for me was to describe what it is like to be a child from such a dysfunctional family. It points out the pain we feel. It highlights the confusion we live with. It painfully points out the destructive behavior we live out and even worse the pain we pass on to our children. Dr. Warren said that the way to stop the pain is for the adult/parent to face this pain and deal with it. That became my journey.  

It was several months of pain and tears. With the book as guidance, and a counselor friend, I did the work that I needed to do. Near the end of the book, Dr. Warren urges the adult/child to try to speak to our parents, if they are still alive. He suggests that we prepare a critical question to direct to at least one parent. He taught us that once we share it with them, we would have to sit back and wait for the response. And we need to be prepared for the family pain that is about to be revealed.

I can share my question with my father. I still remember the quiet afternoon as we sat alone. “Dad, I want to ask you a question and I want you to think about it before you respond.” He nodded.

“Have you ever thought about how your relationship with your father affected the way you related to me?” Nothing from my family or our history prepared me for what he shared. While sharing, my mother entered the room and added more painful family shame.  I do not think it is appropriate for me to share what all flowed out that day, but I can share the results.

First, I can share how it hit me. It was painful, awesome, and ultimately freeing. In one conversation, my toxic family history poured out and opened the door to freeing me from that past. It led to a deeper relationship with my father. I called my wife that night and we cried together.

Interestingly, I never told my son about this, but soon things began to change between us. One day he called and pleaded to come home and live with us. I almost said no, but my wife looked at me, and crying nodded yes! So began a long year of reconciliation. As Warren said, he no longer had to carry my pain. Of course, by then, he had plenty of his own.

To my son’s credit, after moving home, he restarted his education, got a job, and began to blossom.  A year later, he asked us to consider supporting him in applying for college. We smiled and said, “Well, if you think that is something you want to do.” He was grateful. That night as we prepared for bed. We said our shortest and most joyful prayer. YESSSSSS! Thank you, Lord.

Meeting the author: When I became a member of the Staff of Christ Church in Plano and began Vital Church Ministry, I discovered that Paul Warren and his wife were members. I invited him to coffee. After we sat down, I said to him, “Doc, your book changed my life!” At the end of our time, he smiled and thanked me for sharing. Then, right there in the coffee shop, we cried together tears of healing. 

He has since gone on to the land of light and love. I shall never forget him or his book, his lessons, and his great kindness to me.

Thanks for listening. Some of you may find this book helpful too.

Kids Who Carry Our Pain is by Dr. Paul Warren and Dr. Robert Hemfelt and is part of the Minirth Meier Series and Published by Thomas Nelson 1990.