Peter’s parents had always been strict, but to obey them was his second nature. He knew that to step out of line would displease them and invite the wrath of God. So he tried hard to get all A’s in school and he never ran with a gang or took part in questionable pastimes.
But Peter, now 22, was far from being the happy fellow that folks supposed him to be. After a promising start as a tool designer, he lost his job and then two others after short trials. He renounced his church. He became involved in escapades that would have been public scandals had they been known.
This sensitive, yet outwardly impersonal young man finally came to my office for help. I discovered that while acting the part of an exemplary youth, Peter had possessed private thoughts that violently opposed the principles of his upbringing. He had repressed these thoughts all through his school years, then discarded the old restraints when he left home. And still he wasn’t happy!
Probing for the reasons of his earlier parental obedience, I discovered that it was mainly from fear. “They made me feel evil if I disobeyed them. I was afraid they wouldn’t love me or that they would belt me or give me a tongue lashing if I did anything against their standards.”
Thoroughly tired of blind obedience, this honor student rebelled against authority after leaving home. He built up resentment against his bosses and acquaintances and walled himself off.
Peter had apparently chosen a new set of standards for his life, one almost opposite to that of his parents. This was his privilege, but he must not expect them to approve of his standards, I emphasized. Their treatment of Peter may have been a “bum deal” from his perspective, but he had to grant them the right to maintain their own beliefs.
When Peter focused on his situation objectively, he could say, “I see now why I lost interest in my work; tool designing was Dad’s idea.” He also understood his restlessness and carelessness as darts he was throwing at his parents to punish them for their harsh supervision. When he forgave them, the wails of resentment tumbled.
Previously, Peter had not dared to admit personal sin, because he had been warned that an angry God punishes sin. Now, Peter saw that Christ died to “forgive and put away all sin.” He started picking spiritual skeletons out of his closet and acknowledging them to God, standing on 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Peter decided, after all, that his parents’ standards were the ones he wanted. He got his first job back. He now accepts people for what they are. He has discovered that life is worth living in the full freedom of Christ.
The names and certain details in this true case history have been changed to protect each person’s identity and privacy.