Rules are important.
Yes, they can be a burden. And yes, a relationship built on only rules will never amount to much. God says so in both the New and Old Testament, chastising legalism in both epochs:
These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. (Isaiah 29:13; quoted again in Matthew 15:8-9.)
Josh McDowell summed it up well when he wrote that “Rules without relationship equal rebellion.”
I get it.
On the other hand, no rules equals no relationship. Without them, we would have no way to distinguish one person from another. No mothers or fathers, no brothers or sisters. No friends. Just me and 8 billion other people.
Rules define and provide healthy boundaries to relationship. They must be understood, recognized, and respected. There are real consequences when these rules aren’t clearly defined or when they are broken.
Relationship can’t begin without them, and it can’t survive when they disappear.
The troubled teen boys at Whetstone usually come from situations where rules were either too strict, too loose, or too “not there.”
Sometimes this relationship with rules was established before they were even aware of it. They learned that survival meant having no expectations…for others…for themselves. And they have suffered as a result.
Whetstone exists to repair this brokenness. It looks ugly at times. It means enforcing unpopular rules with boys you barely know, at first, and then holding the line as you get to know them – not because you enjoy pushing them around, but because you know this is part of the healing process. They might hate you for it at first, but over time they learn to respect you and, perhaps more important, they learn to respect themselves.
Sure, we get it wrong sometimes. We might come down too hard on a boy for a mistake we should have anticipated or, worse, was our own fault. Conversely, we might not do him the dignity of holding him accountable for his actions; we’ll do him no favors by overlooking behaviors that will only destroy him in the end.
A new boy recently commented that he didn’t know what an “infraction” was, but that he probably wasn’t good at it because he hated anything involving “fractions.”
We laughed. He smirked, not knowing why what he said was funny – which illustrates my point:
Most of our boys are pretty clueless when it comes to relationship. They just don’t get it. It’s all either a joke, or a tragic misunderstanding. That’s why they are here.
A good “talking-to” is not going to fix the problem. (They hate lectures more than fractions!) Neither will a “come-to-Jesus” meeting. Cheap grace won’t do the trick. Pretending the problem doesn’t exist when it’s as plain as the nose on your face won’t get you anywhere either. Just ask Pinocchio.
They need a lot more than that. They need someone to keep at it, all day, for weeks and months on end. Parents, no matter how hard they try, can’t do this. It’s just too hard amidst the daily grind of raising a family, staying employed, and staying married. The strain is literally tearing them apart.
The teen boys at Whetstone need someone to cut their strings and then establish a real connection only possible when a group of loving professionals can engage in the inevitable tug of war that a struggling teenage boy needs to find himself without destroying himself and everyone around him.