I home teach a family which includes a young man in his early twenties. He lives with his mother and siblings. His father isn’t a part of his life and, as a result, his mother is overwhelmed trying to meet everyone’s needs. It seems like this young man has fallen in between the cracks. He doesn’t work, doesn’t go to school, and appears to have no future. I’ve visited with him over the past few years and tried to be a support to him. Our visits seem to go well and he tells me he appreciates the time I spend with him. My concern is that I worry I might be enabling him to stay stuck in his life by not challenging him. When loved ones try to push him, he pushes back the other way. I hate to see him so stuck. I want to challenge him to move forward in his life, but I also realize I’m probably the only man he has in his life that has taken an interest in supporting him. I don’t want to make things worse for him. Any advice you have would be appreciated.
This neighbor family is fortunate to have you on their side. Your sensitivity to the needs of this young man coupled with your commitment to be there for him is a powerful combination. I have no doubt that whatever you decide to do with him will be helpful because your motivation is out of love.
Your question opens up an opportunity to follow the counsel given in Doctrine and Covenants 84:106 which reads, “And if any man among you be strong in the Spirit, let him take with him him that is weak, that he may be edified in all meekness, that he may become strong also.” Elder Mervyn B. Arnold taught, “the following action words and phrases underline [The Lord’s] sense of urgency: ‘watch over,’ ‘take the lead,’ ‘expound,’ ‘visit the house of each member,’ ‘pray,’ ‘strengthen,’ ‘warn,’ ‘send,’ ‘teach,’ ‘exhort,’ ‘baptize,’ and ‘invite all to come unto Christ.’[i]
When people close to us become stuck in their forward progress, it ignites a range of emotions. Sometimes we feel fear for their future. Other times, we might feel worried that we aren’t doing enough. However, I want you to continue doing what you’re doing. I believe your role isn’t to fix this young man and rehabilitate him. While there may be moments where you can give him guidance, advice, and challenges, you are in a fortunate position of building trust with him. As Elder Bruce R. McConkie once put it, “We have to warm our neighbor before we can warn our neighbor.”[ii]
No doubt this young man is stalled out and could use some direction. However, no amount of pressure, threats, bargains, or deals will help him discover his purpose. My friend, Dr. Wally Goddard, once told me that he believes people don’t change until we accept them where they are. This doesn’t mean that we don’t encourage them to move somewhere different. However, it’s human nature to resist someone’s attempts to change us.
As the neighbor and friend, you can focus building trust with him, which might allow him to reveal more about why he’s so stuck. My prediction is that these visits will produce the insight, courage, and strength for him to take risks and move forward. I love this wise observation from Henri Nouwen:
To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept. Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.”[iii]
This young man doesn’t need a lecture. He needs a listener. You’re not raising him. He’s lost and needs to find his own way with the caring support and presence of a more experienced neighbor. Don’t underestimate the value of what you’re providing him. Don’t become impatient and force a directive or ultimatum that would disconnect him from your loving support.
Since you’re not providing his living conditions, you don’t have the pressure to have him be more independent right away. That is between him and his family. If they kick him out because he’s not contributing or improving his life, it’s still not your responsibility to provide for him. You are in a unique position as a neighbor to offer a special kind of support that isn’t tied to any specific outcome.
This won’t be the only challenge this young man faces. You are positioning yourself to offer him a lifetime of mentorship and support. As you listen, ask good questions, invite, and show genuine interest in this young man’s future, he will learn more about himself and develop the courage to create forward movement.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
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[ii] Personal notes from a priesthood leadership meeting in Denver, Colorado by the author’s father-in-law.