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
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
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
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.