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FIRST-PERSON: Tough love works

DURHAM, N.C. (BP)–The grief was still present in the eyes of the messenger to the Southern Baptist Convention as he recounted that his son recently had died from a drug overdose. The pain filled the airport limousine as we headed toward the convention center hotel, and little could be said to ease the tragedy.

Not only does the resulting carnage from reckless choices regarding drug abuse play havoc with the victims’ lives, but so many others are directly touched by the tragic events.

A telephone call from a distraught minister told of another misadventure, of a wayward son who had been readmitted to a Christ-centered primary treatment center.

“They kicked him out, saying that he was unwilling to perform the study exercises required of participants,” the pastor related.

“He wandered around town and eventually got drunk, stole something and was arrested and charged with misdemeanor larceny. He’s in jail under a small bond. He’s calling us constantly, crying for us to get him out. I know I told him that he couldn’t come home until he got his life straightened out, but we just don’t know what to do!”

We had already agreed in previous conversations that the son should undergo treatments consecutively in two primary treatment centers before, hopefully, getting accepted by a Christ-centered halfway house. The parents had promised to practice tough love this time. But they hesitated to resist bailing him out before his court date. “Don’t do it,” we urged, knowing that this sends the wrong message and remembering how the son had blamed them for his actions in recent telephone conversations.

“He needs to realize that he, and he alone, is responsible for his mistakes. He needs a strong dose of Jesus in his heart!” we counseled, knowing that the parents often pay the price for the mistakes of their children.

After we had spoken at the morning and evening services of a church, seeking to provide inspiration and hope from our own experiences and trying to provide common sense advice to those whose loved ones had gone astray, the phone rang. An obviously agitated young man screamed at the top of his voice, “What did you say at church that made my parents pack up my clothes and tell me that they were kicking me out?”

The young man had first sought help for his drug problem from his pastor, who had referred him to us (again), believing that he was at last serious about seeking recovery from his serious drug addiction. We laid out a plan for recovery that required taking a leave from his job. He had been reluctant to pay the price required by a workable, Christ-centered recovery program. Instead he turned to a secular agency that immediately placed him on methadone. We had warned the druggie and his father that this temporary crutch could provide no final answer and would just postpone or destroy any opportunity for permanent recovery.

We had repeated to the young man and his father our firm belief that the addiction must be replaced with something stronger than the addiction. To us, the strongest force available is a lasting trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord. A person must let go and let God take over.

In spite of the young man’s belief that he could solve the problem on his own, he was sadly mistaken! The parents had insisted that their son come to hear us that Sunday in the church they attend regularly. But he had not shown up, explaining to his distraught parents that he didn’t go into the church because the parking lot was too full and, after all, he had explained, “I was late.” This failure to attend the service had been the straw that had temporarily broken the camel’s back, resulting in the threat to throw him out of the house.

The vocally violent telephone conversation continued, interspersed with strong words of threat and blame aimed at his parents. He was obviously in trouble and so were they. “Don’t talk to your parents that way!” was our contribution. His out-of-control response followed, “I’ll talk to them any way I want to …” and the unproductive call ended.

In a later telephone conversation we learned that the frustrated parents had relented, allowing the son his millionth second-chance. “We’re sure you realize that your surrender on this matter will make it more difficult to convince him that you are serious about your future requests or demands.”

“I know. I know,” the discouraged father conceded.

“We’ll be ready to help him, when he’s ready to help himself!” we responded.

We had tried to help a concerned businessman resolve his son’s cocaine problem. The longtime addict had actually applied for admission to a Christian treatment center we recommended. But on the day of admission, he had backed out. His father persuaded the young man to accompany him to the center to get a firsthand view of the facility. He liked what he saw and he decided to take the step to find help by the grace of God.

In a telephone call to the father on the day before he was to take him to begin the 70 days of treatment and recovery, we talked about the young man’s previous disposition to rarely finish the course in anything he attempted.

Our recommendation was simple to the father who had bailed his son out of trouble more than once, “Tell him that there will be no job with your company, no place to stay at home or in any place provided with your funds, and no sympathy available unless he finishes the entire program. Let him know that you mean business!”

“This is a God-inspired call!” he rejoiced. “That’s just what I’ll do. I so much want to see him get well!”

Yes, our loved ones continue to fall prey to legal and illegal substances. In our efforts to help them get well and achieve a mature lifestyle with Jesus as Lord and Master, let us remember that tough love can and does work.

But never forget that when you take the word “love” out of “tough love,” all that left is “tough.” The fallen need our encouragement, but they do not need us as crutches that enable them to continue their destructive habits.

For the disappointed loved ones who are often tempted to give up, remember that even though it may seem now that Satan and the Lord have had a tussle over the life of the one you care about, and it may look like the devil has won for the time being, don’t give up.

Who knows about the future? God is still on His throne and Jesus is still healing people!
Ted Stone and Philip Barber are Southern Baptist speakers and writers on the subjects of the prevention and cure of drug abuse. They may be contacted at P.O. Box 1397, Durham, NC 27702, or by telephone at (919) 477-1581.

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  • Ted Stone & Philip Barber