Monday, February 29, 2016

Breaking Strongholds

     Braden doesn't have many friends. I'm not sure if he has any because he never talks of any, never gets together with any, never receives calls from or makes calls to any, and says he eats lunch alone at school. And he's lived this way since about middle school. It's been a long-running concern for us, so we've provided opportunities for him—grand opportunities—to make friends through church, scouting, and of course public school classes and activities. It's sort of a lead-the-horse-to-water thing: we can provide him opportunities but it's up to him what he does with them.
     Deanne and I aren't social butterflies, as our social lives are already full with work, family, and church activities. So our kids don't have the best examples of adult-to-adult friendship socializing, though we do have friends over on rare occasion.
     Regardless of how much I stress the importance of having friends is, I suspect that Braden somewhere along the line decided that friends aren't worth it and has contented himself to limiting his social life to just us. He even fell away from scouting for awhile. Meanwhile church activities are limited to adult-led and organized activities: no real friend or friends to just hang out with and talk to about whatever.
     This is a huge change from when I grew up and neighborhood friends were almost always around and available to hang out and play with (mostly sports, but also to do kid activities like catch crayfish, shoot bb gun, explore the woods, climb trees, bike ride, etc.) from after school (I'd rush through my homework) until sundown and dinner time, making for some happy childhood memories.
     It's not as if Braden's unfriendable due to “lack of social skills”—I always hated that description because it's applied so inaptly all too often, in that skillfulness (whatever that means) does not lead to friendships, mutual caring, concern, time, and companionship do, skills be damned. And some of the least socially skilled persons around (those overly shy or who struggle with speech impediments, say, or those who miss social cues) sometimes develop the closest bonds imaginable. And Braden has none of those challenges, he speaks in turn, exercises manners within the normal range, and acts pretty much like others his age. He strikes me, then, as one who has been burned once too often, and thus doesn't think it's worthwhile to pursue friendships, because he's happy enough without, perhaps counting family as his closest and only friends (which isn't so awful when you think about it).
      But he's been spending way too much time in his room reading and listening to radio and resenting going out for exercise (doing not much real exercise when he goes out anyway), which builds up resentments against us when he doesn't get his way because he doesn't have a friend to vent and share his frustrations with.
     So I insisted that he check out Christian Club at school. It took a few tries but he finally did, and dropped in during lunch recesses at group gatherings. Unfortunately, it's been lecture-based, so he hasn't formed any friends yet, but at least that beats being alone all the time.
     Then I insisted he do something else like check out the scout troop that meets at our church (versus the one that he was at that met at his former elementary school). He went to a couple of get-togethers and liked them well enough to want to join. Here's where the stronghold comes in. He still hasn't earned a single merit badge, this after over four years as a scout. By comparison, after four years I had earned over a dozen merit badges—they're fun, educational, and challenging—a big part of character and leadership development, health, fitness, and skillfulness. I've been encouraging him for years to pursue them but he's always showed indifference. I've let him go. No longer. I insisted that if he wants to switch to this new troop, that he now take scouting serious and earn his first badge.
     We have over twenty merit badge pamphlets out in the garage from which to choose (a hand-me-down gift from my cousin's son). Braden made lame excuses one after another why he couldn't. I knew something was wrong at that point—a spiritual stronghold or mental block not of God.
     I offered to pray for him to get past this, insisting that he could do it, or if he feared initiating social contact (with the Scout Master to earn the merit badge), that he could overcome it, that I knew he could do anything, that God knew he could do anything, and that it was only he that didn't believe he could.
     I said are we in agreement?
     He said I don't have a choice.
     I said that's right. Just like the $60 model boat you begged us to buy using Grandma's gift money that you didn't built for over a year that I had to force you to build. You built it. And you are going to earn a merit badge. Any one. Your choice.
     It took way more push than I would have preferred, but he finally did it—got going on reading the pamphlet and doing the research, performing a phone interview, and is ready to attend a public meeting and volunteer for community service and meet with his new Scout Master.
     A Christian counselor once said that the teen years are ones of striving between child fighting for independence and parent struggling to maintain control over the child's development and safety and that this push/pull conflict cannot be avoided, which makes those years so challenging. Praise God Braden finally came to—it's for his own good, like it or not. He's better for having built and finished the boat. He'll be better off for having earned his first merit badge, too. God willing.

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