Root Causes of Poor Life Choices and How Jesus Might Respond
A good friend of mine died this past February. Jeffery was in his twenties. An incredibly loving young man, Jeffery’s heart was golden. There was not a mean bone in his body. He came to Shepherd’s House Ministries from Seattle where he’d experienced horrid and traumatic abuse on the streets as a homeless teenager.
After a couple of failed attempts at recovery in a Seattle mission some folks pointed him in our direction. He made good progress with us and then after a little over a year with us Jeffery transitioned to a recovery community in Portland. He did well with them also for a year and a half, then relapsed and was back out on the streets.
Tragically, within two days he was dead from an overdose. It was a Friday morning and I was meeting with a couple of area pastors when I heard the news of Jeffery’s death. As I read the text delivering the news, I broke down and cried, and cried, and cried. Usually I can keep it together, but Jeffery’s death hit me hard and the tears would not stop. The thought of him alone and in such pain that he felt he needed to stick a needle in his arm grieves my heart.
My sadness grew deeper as I reflected on the amazing person Jeffery was, truly wonderful, loving young man, who, for the past three years poured himself into his recovery. He gave it his all. He loved and trusted God with his whole heart.
Changing Our Reality
The tragic reality is this: Regarding the fact trauma actually produces changes in brain function, Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. writes; “. . . this helps us understand why traumatized people so often keep repeating the same problems and have such trouble learning from experience . . . their behaviors are not the result of moral failings or signs of a lack of willpower or bad character – they are caused by actual changes in the brain.”
That is why some people cannot follow Nancy Reagan’s advice and ‘just say no.’ (For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” – Paul in Romans 7)
If you are more fortunate than others, it is better to build a longer table than a higher fence."
Thank you for your prayers and partnership as we serve. I believe now more than ever, no one should have to be alone or on their own when they are experiencing such intense and unrelenting pain.
Our culture has completely bought into a behavior modification paradigm: respond punitively to bad behavior and push people out of community, thinking this is the best course for them. I am coming to believe that when the Jeffery’s of this world stumble and struggle we all too often handle it wrong because our paradigm is no different.
The U.S.A. has roughly 4.4% of the world’s population, and, disproportionately, 22% of the world’s prison population!
As a country we have embraced the belief that punishment is the answer for people who make ‘poor’ choices. We have somehow come to believe that increasing their pain is the right approach to recovery because, when their pain gets big enough, they will finally “learn their lesson” and then logically, “change their ways.”
In reality and in many cases (like Jeffery’s) our punitive and pain-increasing responses serve only to drive them deeper into isolation and destructive behavior. The lesson they all too often learn is they are so messed up, so broken, so bad that they are unredeemable, unloved, and, alone. This should not be!
Dealt a cruel and unfair hand as a child, Jeffery gave it his all as a young man. Still experiencing overwhelming pain, Jeffery ends up making choices leading to his death. Many times in my letters to you I get to write about incredible and miraculous stories of transformation. But I need to be honest. Sometimes things do not work out like I’d hoped – no matter how hard we try or how well we love.
Jeffery’s story makes my prayers to God that much more fervent. “God, please help us to love like You love. Please give us what we need so that we can serve people and give them the best. Please let people see and experience Your love so clearly that they are healed completely. Please help us work to change the paradigm for people like Jeffery so society can learn to embrace the hurting by loving and caring for them like you do. Amen."
By Cash Lowe
Organizational Chaplain, Shepherd’s House Ministries