Thursday, March 20, 2008

holy week

I met with a young man this week who struggles with anger. Not aggression directed at people, really, but he yells, screams, slams doors, throws things. His bewildered mother brought him to me wondering what on earth is wrong with her child.

I was struck, as I often am in these cases, by the sheer vulnerability of this child. How tears burst forward the minute he mentioned his father or his grades. How he tells me all about his anger, but how all I see in him is his pain.

I meet a bit later with his mother, and she is frustrated, overwhelmed by his daily outbursts. She worries that he is just like his abusive father, genetically doomed (in her view) to be selfish, demanding, mean, and petty. So she responds to his outbursts by telling him how wrong he is, by arguing with him, by punishing. And his therapist (who asked for the evaluation) works endlessly on "anger management" and sees little change in his behavior despite years of work together.


When I read the gospel story today, where Jesus washes Peter's feet, I thought of just how different that approach really is. The situation I described above is really one of parental avoidance, in a sense: avoidance of their child's anger, avoidance of emotional messiness, avoidance out of a fear that they will somehow be at fault. But the gospel today is a message of openness, of acceptance -- of facing the mess and dealing with it, of nurturing someone in their most private, most shameful, most difficult areas.

It is all well and good, I think, to understand that this is how God deals with us. But my hope is to take this lesson and recall that we are called to do the same. I think we are often trapped in a sense by our desire for calm, for order, for all the good things that make us feel like life is OK and we're doing our jobs as parents, partners, or spouses correctly. But the gospel calls us to look past this to see the person in front of us, hurting or ashamed or confused, and offer something more than a reminder of what they should be doing.

If we follow Christ's example, we welcome the messiness, welcome the fear, welcome the possibility that we have been in error -- because by doing so with compassion for ourselves and whomever we are dealing with, we bring about the potential for grace.


more cows than people said...

lovely reflection, steve.

do you get to make recommendations to his therapist? is there any way you could be his therapist? the role of evaluator must be a hard or painful one sometimes.

steve said...

more cows,

Actually, yes, I do get to make some recommendations to his therapist -- and I'll be able to give some feedback to the mother. I find that part of the process much more hope inspiring, actually.