This is a letter to my brother, Daniel, who is in a Teen Challenge Program overcoming his addictions. He’s had problems with drugs and alcohol since he was a teenager, but only recently decided to take responsibility for himself and seek help. I’ve helped him several times over the years, and finally threw up my hands in frustration and limited all communication with him.
Until recently, that is…
You see, my brother finally took responsibility for his actions and sought out help. He’s enrolled in a Teen Challenge program in Arkansas. And I couldn’t be prouder.
The first letter he sent after being in there was one of discouragement. It was addressed to my mom ’cause he and I haven’t been talking much. She shared it with me. I knew it was coming. It’s normal to be down in the dumps when starting a program such as this. He threw out things like, “I want to be in a program that teaches me what alcohol does to my body” and “this isn’t even a rehab – I thought it was…” and “they force me to read the Bible all the time” and “they don’t have work placement assistance after the program is over” and… blah blah blah. I smiled as I read through his excuses. I knew he was in those initial stages of settling in, and he was looking for any excuse to leave. So I broke my silence and wrote to him. Here’s what I wrote (for the record when his name is mentioned, Caden is my son):
Mom let me read your first letter. I’m not surprised you’re not the happiest camper right now. But I am asking a favor of you: do NOT walk away. Hear me out.
First of all, I want to address one thing you mentioned. You said that you wanted to know what alcohol does to your body. I’ll tell you and save you the trouble of transferring to a place that educates you about it. You ready? This is gonna be heavy:
It screws it up!
That’s really all you need to know. Honestly. Addictions have stolen your life from you and ruined relationships, including ours. What more do you need to know?
Now, let me tell you this: I could NOT POSSIBLY BE MORE PROUD OF YOU THAN I AM RIGHT NOW! The only way you can take that away from me is to quit. You work your butt off in there, okay? Trust God. I know that sounds cliché and sometimes worthless after all the things we’ve felt about Him, but I know this: you’re in the right place.
The fact that teen challenge isn’t a “rehab” is actually perfect for you. You’ll eventually see that. Your eyes are going to be opened and you’re going to see life from a bigger perspective. If you can’t trust God on this, trust me. I can promise you that if you finish this program your life will be infinitely better.
But as I said before, I am asking you as a personal favor to stay in the program. I’m pretty confident our relationship will be restored through this. In fact, I have one more favor to ask of you: study the Bible with me. Here’s what I mean by that… let’s choose a topic. Or if they assign topics to you, write to me about them. Then let’s talk about them. I purchased this Bible Software called Logos 4 Platinum. It’s very expensive software and worth every penny. There are more than 3,500 books included. The Bible is coming alive for me because of it. I’ve actually WANTED to read it and haven’t really read much else for awhile now.
I’m emailing you, but if they reply to me and tell me that they can’t print it out and give it to you I’ll do so myself…. print it out and mail it regularly. I just wanted to get a response to you as soon as possible.
I’m going to mail some envelopes and stamps so you can write to whomever you wish. Let me know when you’re low on supplies like that.
I’ve been reading through the website for the Arkansas program. I know you’re not seeing it right now, but God’s all over it. You’re life will be changed if you let it. I’m asking you to do so.
One thing you’ll find is this, Daniel: most rehabs treat the symptoms of problems. This one treats the cause. The focus on God is important because once you’ve finally encountered Him, the root issue is then being treated. Your heart is where the problem lies. You need to know who you are. You need to know how HE sees you. That information needs to sink into your heart, not just into your ears.
You are my brother. There has never been a time when I’ve not loved you, but there sure has been times I don’t want to talk to you. The reason is because you were not willing to take responsibility and do what it takes to get what you need. NOW you are doing that. STICK WITH IT. STICK WITH IT. STICK WITH IT.
Did I mention that I want you to stick with it?
By the way, I’m also convinced there’s a big huge GOD PLAN involved in your being at the Arkansas facility. That makes it just a bit more difficult to run away. And stop being concerned about being close to family. Right now it’s time to focus on Daniel. Right now it is OKAY to be selfish. In fact, that’s exactly what you need to do: focus JUST on yourself and God. Don’t worry about what you’re going to do for work after you get out. There is not a single doubt in my mind that will turn out just fine.
Since I don’t know what you’re currently studying, I’m gonna take a few minutes to figure out a Bible study that I want to do with you. This is just us… you and me…. Donny and Daniel… studying the Bible. What an awesome thing to do. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do tonight. In fact, just so you know, this is my weekend with Caden. You KNOW I never take any time away from that, but I am doing so right now. I read your letter to mom while I was cooking dinner for Caden. I couldn’t wait to reply. I know you’re feeling down, but that is expected for awhile. I know you don’t like rules, either. None of us do. But I’m asking you to submit yourself to those rules. Make a choice to trust God that no matter how silly a rule might be, following it is what you need to do right now. I promise, in the future you’ll see a purpose in every single “petty” rule. The way the rules make you feel is up to you. You can feel joy or anger. It’s your decision. Seriously.
Also: I’ve posted on twitter and facebook how proud I am of you. Some of my facebook friends have promised to write to you, too.
Okay… anyway… on to the Bible Study.
Even more shocking than finding out that I like reading the Bible is finding out that I like reading the Old Testament. It’s seriously cool once you learn to study it – to dig into the context of it. To find out what it meant to the people who wrote it or to the people who read those original documents. I’ve been telling Bible stories to Caden in a way that really captures his mind. I just interrupted his video game playing and asked him to tell me which story he likes most so I can share it with Uncle Daniel. He told me that he wants me to tell you the story about the “guy with the 300 men”… he’s talking about Gideon. So here goes…. this could get long.
The story of Gideon focuses on his struggle to overcome fear. The Midianites along with other eastern peoples had oppressed Israel for seven years (Judges 6:1–10). They had basically taken everything away from Israel. God wasn’t protecting them because they had this really dumb habit of turning to idols when they were comfortable. What I mean is this: they served God when they needed Him, but after He’d done so many great things for them they’d always decide to “fit in” with the people around them and serve the stupid gods worshipped by the people they lived around.
Anwyay, God came to Gideon and challenged him to lead Israel like a “mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12) and get rid of the people oppressing them. What you need to know, though, is that Gideon was the least important person in his family. And his family was the least important family of all the families in Israel. Gideon really didn’t have any self confidence. He actually couldn’t believe God would choose him to do anything of importance. One thing you’ll see as you study the Bible is that God often asks the least likely people to do His work. Israel’s first king (Saul) actually was from similar circumstances: an unimportant man in an unimportant family.
Anyway, back to Gideon.
Gideon passed his first test of faith by tearing down the altar of Baal that belonged to his father (people actually wanted to kill him for doing that). That was significant because he was showing God that he wanted to get away from the false gods yet again and worship the one true God. After tearing down the altar to Baal he prepared for battle against the Midianites. By setting out a fleece of wool, he devised a test to learn that God was really with him (Judges 6:36–40). Why did he do that test? Once again, he wasn’t sure God really would use him. He kept having to test God to make sure. His self confidence wouldn’t let him believe it.
At first Gideon gathered 32,000 soldiers, but God tested Gideon’s courage once again. So that HE was the one who received credit for the victory, He initially reduced Gideon’s army to ten thousand. It went kinda like this: “If I let you take 32,000 men with you, when you win you’ll be tempted to think it was because of your big army. I want you to know that you couldn’t have done this without me. I want you to be certain that I’m doing this for you.” But even 10,000 men were too much. God whittled Gideon’s army down to only the three hundred who “lapped the water with their tongue like a dog” when they stopped for a drink (Judges 7:5). These three hundred were selected because they showed that they were more watchful for the enemy. Here’s the part that really kicks butt: those 300 men were going up against THOUSANDS of trained soldiers. But here’s what they did: They split into three groups and surrounded the camps of their enemy. All they had to do was blow trumpets and break the pots that covered their fire lamps. The Midianites were confused and started killing each other because they thought there were huge amounts of Israelites in their camp. Usually for every person blowing a horn and holding a lamp there were a TON of soldiers behind them. So when they saw and heard 300 people doing this, they were convinced there were enemies swarming all over them.
So in spite of a weak leader, small army, and the foolish weapons of trumpets and torches, Israel won the day because of the power of God (Judges 7:22). Now that he was no longer afraid of battle, Gideon went out and humbled the cities of Succoth and Peniel, which had refused to gave aid to his fatigued army (Judges 8:4–17). By executing the Midianite kings, Zebab and Zalmunna, Gideon avenged his brothers (Judges 8:18–21) who had been killed by those kings. He pretty much became a major butt kicker.
Thing is… Gideon wasn’t some perfect man. He ended up marrying all sorts of women, having 70 kids, etc. But that’s kinda the point: God often picks insignificant, imperfect people to do His work. Not only does He do so in order to make it clear that HE is the one in charge, He also does so to make the point that none of us are truly unimportant. There is something for all of us to do.
Read through the passages I mentioned and let me know what your thoughts are. Share with me anything you get out of them. I want to know. This kind of thing gives us a common focus, so study with me, my brother. Please? Instead of seeing the Bible as pointless and boring, I think you’re going to find the same thing I have: it’s pretty deep. We’re not just reading at surface value… let’s find out what lessons we can learn that apply to US. Okay?
Let your mind relax there at Teen Challenge. Trust that you’ll see a bigger plan as time goes on. You’re really treating the root of the problem now, instead of just the symptoms. I’ve been really getting to know God, and that’s what ends up changing everything. Once “getting to know God” becomes real to you, instead of something dumb that you just hear in church, you’ll start noticing that the problems in your life are being treated. THAT is the beauty of Teen Challenge. So, again, just go with it. Finish it. What if it fails? Then we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. For now, just trust. I’m asking that as a favor to me, which you’ll eventually see was a favor to you.
Your very proud brother,
For someone going through a program like this, letters are very important. If you’d like to say something encouraging to my brother, or to send him, say, an encouraging postcard, here is the address to send it to:
C/O Teen Challenge
P.O. Box 8177
Hot Springs, AR 71910