A few nights ago I was watching an episode of The Middle. I’ve written about this show before so I won’t go into the basic information about it. If you aren’t familiar with it, Google it and you’ll find a synopsis for each of the main characters. The show is a typical sitcom, meaning there is a problem (often several in one episode) faced by the Heck family and by the end of the thirty minute program, the problem(s) has been solved and the family members bask in the glow of the happy ending. We all know that real life doesn’t work that way. Yes, on some days we are able to overcome a few of the obstacles that present themselves to us, but most obstacles that plunge us into crisis mode aren’t solved in the span of thirty minutes. In fact, I would go so far as to say that most obstacles aren’t solved in the span of twenty-four hours or even a week’s time. Regardless, though, I enjoy this show because it portrays what a real family often looks like. Moms and dads sometimes don’t know what to do or what to say so they pretend that they do. This, of course, often exacerbates the situation. This is typically where Mike and Frankie Heck find themselves.
In the episode I was watching earlier this week, one of the issues presented was the failure of daughter Sue to pass her driver’s test. She had tried—and failed—five times. At first, the ever optimistic Sue didn’t seem upset by this. She kept a positive attitude, telling herself she would get it on the next try. Her positivity was halted, though, as her friends started passing their tests. First, her best friend Carly passed. Then, others who she associated with declared their victory over the driving test. Sue was still okay. When Carly asked if Sue wanted a ride rather than take the bus to school, Sue refused, saying she still had Brad to ride the bus with. At that moment, who drives up in his new convertible, waving at Sue and the others, excited that he too had joined the club of new drivers? Yep, you guessed it. Brad. Sue was devastated. With her parents busy dealing with problems brought about by her siblings, Sue turned to the only other person she felt she could talk to—her youth pastor, Reverend Tim Tom. Sue always felt that when others just didn’t understand her, Reverend Tim Tom would. He was always willing to sit down and talk with her. Well, actually, Sue talked. Reverend Tim Tom always gave his advice in the form of an impromptu song while he strummed his guitar. In the end, Reverend Tim Tom helped Sue to accept that while she may be jealous of her friends driving, there was so much about her that her friends were jealous of. By the end of the show, the positive, smiling, optimistic Sue was back, being cheered on by her friends, Reverend Tim Tom, and even her mom (who Brad had called and got her to drop what she was doing by telling her it was an emergency).
As I watched the show’s plot unfold, I thought back to the time in my own life when I was Sue Heck’s age—16. I lived with two parents who gave me just about everything I asked for. (I’m not saying this was a good thing. It’s just a fact.) I had every reason to be happy, content, and optimistic. To people looking at us, we appeared to be the perfect family. My dad owned his own business. My mom stayed home and did the bookkeeping for that business. We lived in a nice, middle class, suburban neighborhood. Our house had a swimming pool in the backyard. Of course, these things do not make a perfect family. They are just things, and sometimes things can hide reality. This was certainly true in my case. Those who knew me knew me as an intelligent, athletic, straight-A student who never pushed the boundaries set for me. In spite of all these positive things, I was not a happy kid. In fact, I distinctly remember coming home from school one afternoon, going to my room to be alone (something I did every day), sitting on my bed, and crying. I was certain that nothing could be worse than being sixteen years old. Life was so hard and I felt so alone. I knew a lot of people yet felt so distant from just about every one of them. Looking back on those days now, I realize that my battle with depression started in childhood—even before turning the dreaded age of sixteen. If you know me or have read much of my writing, you know that depression is still a beast that too often rears its head in my life. I don’t know if others noticed it as I was growing up. But as I watched Reverend Tim Tom sit and talk with Sue Heck about her driving test problem, I wondered if my life would have been different if someone had taken an interest in me. What if someone had taken the time to invest in a sixteen year old who desperately wanted to fit in but was a square person in a round world? Would I still be battling the beast of depression as an adult? Would I have learned tools to help me fight the battle more effectively? Would the simple fact that someone saw me for who I was—an introvert that definitely enjoyed alone time but also really needed friends—change how I would see myself over the years? Would I have turned to alcohol to numb the pain as I ended up doing? Would I have attempted suicide? Would I have been brave enough to trust someone with what was really going on in my life? I cannot answer these questions. Once time is gone it can never be had again. I was sixteen only once in my life. I’m far removed from that year now. God has done so much in my life, but still, I am haunted by this question: Would I have surrendered to God sooner had someone influenced me in that direction?
As a Christian adult, I know there are kids who need someone in their lives to influence them in a positive way. I will never be a youth pastor like Reverend Tim Tom. I will most likely never teach school again, nor will I be a camp counselor. Health issues have made these things impossible. Still, I know that God can use me somehow. I pray that my eyes—that all of our eyes—would be open to see the kid who is pretending that all is okay. I pray that God would put me in a position to be that adult that encourages the weary heart of a child who just feels that the whole world is against him or her. I pray that somehow, even with the limitations I have, that I can make a difference in someone’s life.