As you may know, one of our children has some special needs. The boy has especially struggled since the onset of adolescence and all of the hormones and social pressures and (his own) expectations about how life should go. Being 15 is hard enough, but having emotional deficits and internal challenges makes it even more difficult. He was losing his ability to cope.
As his behavioral choices became more consequential, it became apparent he needed help. He needed to go elsewhere to get that help. It was not an easy decision. Sending him to a residential treatment center (RTC) in another state was a major decision and brought with it a lot of anxiety. We did not place him in such a facility on a whim. We thought and researched and prayed and talked…and then let events help determine our course of action. As behaviors ramped up, it became clear that an extended time away to “reset” was necessary.
One sunny Monday morning we dropped our son at a facility in Utah. Leaving him with a duffel and a backpack, and assuring him of our love, we told him we hoped the best for his stay. We said a lot of it would be up to him. We couldn’t promise how long the time away would be, but noted that his own choices would be an important factor in determining the length of his stay. In some ways, he seemed a little excited about the break from home and the new people and activities. Ah, that enthusiasm has since worn off.
It has been almost five months since we “enrolled” our boy in that Utah RTC. He has received the help he has needed. The process is not yet complete, though, and yet he is anxious to move on. Tonight as we talked on the phone our son asked, “When do I get out of here?” This is not the first time he has inquired about “getting out.” It is about the 100th time. He is persistent! He’s also unhappy about not getting his way – he really wants to come back home! Being hundreds of miles away from home is hard. Being away from family is hard. Being uncertain about the future is hard. We get that. We tried to tell him that we recognize the stress he is experiencing. We reminded him we want to help. One thing we did not say, however, is that we would rescue him. He is on a life journey of his own making, and he needs to make choices that can lead to his “freedom.”
As difficult as the present circumstances are, being at an RTC, we are seeing positive results. He is working on “his stuff,” and such introspection and personal improvement is hard work – but it is paying off, slow but sure. There’s a calmness and stability that our son has learned. He’s practicing emotional regulation. He’s discarded some of the negative self talk that was so pervasive. He’s improved in his ability to express himself appropriately.
When does he get out? Hard to say. There remain some “growth opportunities,” however. The internal narrative needs to be more realistic. His confidence remains pretty low. He still controls conversations and has a hard time listening. Maybe those qualities won’t develop for years. Maybe it’ll take a lifetime for him to learn some things. Certainly that’s the case for me!
I have lots of rough edges and selfish tendencies. I don’t always seek to serve. I get spiritually distracted. I disconnect emotionally. I get angry. While I am not off at an RTC working on my stuff, I am surrounded by loving people who help me grow and keep me accountable. Nonetheless, there are hard times when I look in the mirror and just want to be done on the self-improvement!
In such times of difficulty, especially those in which I am struggling to “close the gap” on my personal shortcomings, when I am longing for heaven and longing to lose this world and its imperfections, I find some comfort in something the writer of Hebrews said.
This “insider world” is not our home. We have our eyes peeled for the City about to come. Hebrews 13:14 [The Message (MSG)]
If you’re like me, or like our son, wanting to move on is natural. Wanting to get out is pretty normal. It is a reflection of a sort of godly discontent. Let me put it this way:
Remember that the current place you’re in is not your home.
We have not yet arrived…and we will not ever arrive in this life. The reality is that reality is now, but not here. We live in an eternal reality that isn’t easily tracked on a linear time line, but is happening with every breath. Scripture reminds us, however, that we must see that this earth is not the final destination. Until we ascend to heaven, we will not be able to attain to the perfection we seek, the perfection we were created to have as reflections of a sovereign, good, great God.
I’ll try to gently help my son see this truth – that reality is now, but not here. That the RTC is not a permanent situation. That its okay to want better. I’ll also try to remember that myself next time I make a mistake, disappoint someone, or just want to get out of here and move on to heavenly bliss. Such moments of struggle are reminders that earth is not the place God intended it to be. Sin messed things up. There’s a better place in store!
When do I get out of here? Soon enough. As singer-songwriter Larry Norman once noted, “this world is not my home, I’m just passing through.”