One time when Greg was a teenager and our family was driving from Arizona to Missouri, we saw a clear example of why it's so dangerous to allow anger to take root in a home. But we also saw how honor can erase anger in a matter of minutes.
Near the New Mexico state line, Greg and I (Gary) started arguing about an unresolved conflict. Norma, my wife, was in the back of the camper with our other two kids, so she couldn't hear us. Greg had taken some money from Norma's purse to buy a video game. She had given him permission to take $20, but he'd taken $30. What he called an "advance" on his allowance, I was calling stealing. We had argued about the details but had gotten nowhere. I didn't like the fact that Greg wanted to keep this a secret. But he was upset because he'd returned the extra money and didn't feel his mother needed to know about it. He was also afraid she'd get angry.
The other problem was that I'd been pretty harsh with my tongue. I'd blown up during the original discussion at home and called Greg a liar and a thief. I could tell his feelings were hurt, but I had no idea that anger had infiltrated his heart. At least I didn't know until we approached New Mexico. Then, like a volcano, his anger erupted in my face.
As Greg and I argued once again about telling Mom, the discussion quickly escalated to the point that I had to pull the camper off to the side of the road. Suddenly, Greg jumped out of the vehicle, hopped a fence, and disappeared over a hill. As he ran, I could hear him screaming, "I want out of this family!" Then he was gone.
Teenagers! I thought as I rolled my eyes. Watching all the cars and trucks that I'd passed earlier roar by, I wondered how long this was going to take. "This will certainly put us behind schedule!" I yelled to no one in particular.
Since this was my first runaway situation, I didn't know what to do. Should I wait until he came back? Should I run after him? It was so hot outside that I was leaning toward staying in the air-conditioned camper. However, the rest of the family made my decision when they collectively screamed, "Go get him!"
Now I was really frustrated. Greg was pretty fast. Who knew how far he'd run by this time?
As I approached the fence Greg had jumped over, I noticed a sign that read: NO TRESPASSING! DANGER!
Danger? I thought. What could possibly be dangerous out here in the middle of nowhere? So I climbed over the fence and walked to the top of the hill behind which Greg had disappeared. Then I quickly realized what made the sign necessary. Danger was everywhere.
The scene was like something out of the movie Dances with Wolves. An entire herd of huge buffalo was grazing down below. The thought passed through my mind that instead of driving to this area in our camper, we should have traveled in a covered wagon. I had been instantly transported back into the Old West.
As I scanned the area for Greg, I discovered that he had descended the far side of the hill and walked about 20 yards into the herd, then suddenly stopped. I smiled as I thought about how his stubbornness had carried him far into the herd but not all the way through. His strong will had given way to fear. Greg now stood face to face with a large male buffalo. As they stared at each other, the buffalo started snorting and stamping his foot, inching toward Greg. I knew very little about buffalo, but that didn't look good.
Greg was searching for an escape route when his eyes found me. His expression turned to one of great relief. We still had no idea how to solve his dilemma, however. I slowly walked down to where he was standing, thinking the buffalo might charge at any moment. Instead, though, he simply snorted a few more times and then walked away. Thankfully, my presence must have confused the great beast.
We later found out just how dangerous buffalo can be. We heard that if they're frightened, they can run through a wagon load of people in seconds, scattering their remains. Hearing this disturbing news caused the hair on our arms to stand straight up!
When we were out of harm's way, Greg and I stood on the other side of the fence and resolved our conflict. I asked him to explain why he'd run.
"It really hurt when you called me a liar and a thief," Greg choked out, not looking at me. "I know what I did was wrong, but it really killed me to hear you say those things. Having them brought up again today only made it worse. I just wanted to forget the whole thing happened."
Hearing his pain, I realized my sarcasm had deeply hurt my son. I wanted to say I had just been kidding, but he needed to hear me say I was sorry. So I asked him to forgive me for attacking him as a person. Then I put my arms around him and held him for a few seconds. When I could tell he'd forgiven me, I said, "Watch out—the buffalo is right behind us!" He jumped about three feet into the air, and then we laughed about our adventure.
Although Greg had been in the wrong for taking the money, I had been equally wrong for flippantly calling him names. The anger that had developed in his heart had started to cause serious damage. But once I asked him to forgive me, the bitterness melted in his heart, and he was able to seek forgiveness as well. When we got back to the camper, Greg and Norma had a long talk. Our other two children, Kari and Michael, asked what had happened, and I simply said, "It's a long story. Greg will tell you later. In the meantime, let's just say that it will be a while before Greg wants to visit the buffalo exhibit at the zoo!"
As Norma and I were reminded through that experience with Greg, it's so important to increase honor and decrease anger in the hearts of our teenagers. (Seeking forgiveness for the wrong we've done is one of the most honoring things we can do for one another.) In fact, doing those two things is the key to making our kids' teen years our best parenting years because it can make your family feel safe.
© Copyright 2006 Smalley Relationship Center
Originally published April 13, 2007.