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FIRST-PERSON: It’s OK to seek help

THOMASVILLE, N.C. (BP)–They looked like the all-American family: Jim, the smiling, smartly dressed pastor of a loving church, and his wife, a short-order cook and concerned mother. The guidance and care they provided for their only son, Matt, shone through in his pleasant demeanor and above-average grades in school.

But this picture of happiness crumbled as he turned the corner from adolescence. Gradually, Matt’s teenage behavior deteriorated. Not only did his grades drop with a thud, but he also became angry and violent, lashing out at his mother and other students.

Stressed out, Sandra felt relieved on occasions when Matt left the house, mumbling, “I’m going to see a friend.” Of course, had she known that the friend happened to be her son’s marijuana supplier, her peace would have flared into panic.

Despite Matt’s efforts to hide the truth, it became too blatant to ignore. Afraid for their son’s safety, concerned for what his future held, and overcoming the fear of what their congregation might say, Jim and Sandra sought help. They took him to a boys’ camp operated by the Baptist Children’s Homes network in North Carolina.

There they learned that it was not just Matt who had a problem. The whole family had to resolve the issues that had torn them apart.

Like other residents, Matt checked in with a load of emotional and behavioral baggage that was too heavy to lug around at home. He would spend the next two years releasing those feelings as he canoed hundreds of miles, backpacked to remote areas and swam in rivers, lakes and the ocean.

Soon after Matt checked in, a social worker discovered the source of his anger. When Matt was a toddler, his father had a drug problem, which caused a marital separation.

Although his father overcame his addiction, turned to God and reconciled his marriage, the scars remained. As Matt grew older, he also grew further apart from Jim. Like his father, he struggled to control his temper.

It took the passage of time coupled with intense personal effort and numerous counseling sessions to reconcile the family. Father and son learned how to agree and disagree.

Sandra saw her role in the situation, explaining, “We think as parents, ‘Camp will fix the boys and send them home when they are finished,’ but it doesn’t work that way. We told Matt, ‘It’s not just you; we are all going to set goals.’ We all had something to learn.”

Though this story is still being written, it is headed in the right direction. Matt has returned home. He and his father enjoy fishing together, building model airplanes and working on the goals they set earlier.

But this improved state of affairs easily could have ended in disaster. His parents could have allowed fears of damaged pride, inconvenience or possible social reprisals to bottle up the truth. Sooner or later, ignoring brewing trouble is like lighting a stick of dynamite.


People often are reluctant to seek help for emotional, psychological, family or marital problems. Always trying to put on a happy face, they retreat into a state of denial. While denial can help one temporarily cope with harsh circumstances, it is foolish to pitch a tent in never-never land.

One of society’s most damaging trends is the plague of divorce, now so common that a 30-something has written a book on starter marriages, drawn from young people’s habit of hopping in and out of supposed long-term relationships in five years or less.

Of course, the roots of this problem go back for decades. Earlier in my career, I regularly counseled couples with troubled marriages — or at least I tried. I cannot count how many times that a marriage was on the rocks and one party (usually the husband) would say, “Ah, I don’t need that. If she wants to go, that’s fine, but I’ll just gut it out.”

Although my doctoral studies emphasized counseling, one man said, “Well, you know, I just feel you’re too young.” That was just a convenient excuse to ignore the situation. When I needed major dental surgery recently, I would have been foolish to leave the office because the dentist was only 30 years old.

Sadly, divorce seems to be tightening its ugly grip on our society, when many marriages could be salvaged if the couple would just ask for help. While there are numerous factors behind divorce, a leading problem is communication. When these channels get clogged, the match is in trouble.

It reminds me of a cartoon I saw once that showed a husband and wife sitting together at the breakfast table, sipping coffee. The wife is thinking, “Our marriage is in trouble. We better talk about it.” The husband is thinking, “Our marriage is in trouble. I better keep my mouth shut.”

No matter what the problem, take time to discuss it with a trusted friend, confidant, counselor or other adviser. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

In recent decades, society has made progress at getting past the macho, all-American embrace of pride and self-reliance. Still, we have not conquered the problem. Too many people lead lives of quiet desperation. They get out of bed, go to work, breathe and eat, but life holds little meaning, joy or fulfillment.

Sometimes, getting to the next level, whether in a job, a marriage, a relationship or even just a hobby, takes more resources than you possess. So why not seek out those who can help instead of turning away from them?

You would not try to set a broken arm at home with an old tree limb for a splint or operate on yourself to remove a ruptured appendix. Nor should you allow personal problems to afflict you like migraine headaches. Look for those who can help you overcome them.
This article was adapted from the book, “Riches Beyond Measure” by Michael Blackwell with Ken Walker. Dr. Blackwell is the president of Baptist Children’s Homes in North Carolina. Ken Walker is a freelance writer in Louisville, Ky., and a regular contributor to Baptist Press.

    About the Author

  • Michael Blackwell