“When people ask what they can do in despair, tell them to trust in Christ alone. That’s the missing piece all people need but too many fail to seek or to accept”. Braden
“Thanks for this reminder, son. I too often find myself frustrated by trying to force pieces together that look right but which don’t fit.” Braden’s Dad
The holiday season is behind us and let’s face it, there is some solace in returning to routine. After all, lax time around the season can get boring. Our kids annually put up a puzzle table to work while waiting for the “eventful” moments like opening gifts or a get together with friends. We don’t rush the project as it’s just a way to relax, talk, and laugh as we work to put the pieces in place.
This year, we worked on a pretty intricate puzzle. Honestly, it was my first time to participate as I tend to be impatient and give up after looking for the matching parts and failing for ten minutes or so. However, this year, I decided to play along and was somewhat encouraged and proud to say I found some success. Not to brag, but I got most of Santa Claus’ beard and bag done on my own.
As we neared completion, it began to look like we would finish before Christmas Day. The pace picked up as we could see the picture coming into full focus. We were only about ten pieces away from solving the puzzle when it became obvious some pieces were missing. Apparently, the dogs wanted to play along too and had gotten hold of three puzzle pieces, chewing them beyond recognition.
Here was this perfect picture and one we’d all worked with hopes of completing fully, but now it was futile. I mean, you can’t order one replacement part for a 2,000 piece puzzle so we were left a little discouraged. All our effort to complete the project and to make it suitable for framing fell short in the end. Oh, well. Maybe next year.
Since we began a not-for-profit ministry called “Braden’s Voice.org” there have been numerous opportunities to present to schools, churches, and youth groups. Most recently, I found myself in front of the congregation of the Prosper United Methodist Church. A ministry advocating for teen relationship-building and suicide awareness had never been on my radar. It certainly didn’t fit the puzzle of what my life would look like when I started.
Prior to that church presentation, Cathy and I were invited to speak with two church youth groups who gathered to discuss teen depression, culture, and relationships. The discussion was an open forum where we presented our story and the kids were asked to present honest questions.
It was going along great. We shared about life prior to the teen years and how changes presented challenges in the middle and high school years. How Braden found himself outside social circles looking in through a computer or phone screen. We talked about the false front social media puts on the world and how important it is to not fall for that façade.
The participation and engagement was outstanding. Several of the youth were outspoken as to their desire to make a difference in their culture and among their peers. I thought, “Wow. This is going well”. Then, we got a question that stumped me. It was from a teenage girl.
“Mr. Speed. All this talk about helping the Braden’s of the world is great. What can you tell us to do when we fall into despair, loneliness, or depression? What do we tell a friend who wants to hurt themselves and sees no hope in their world? What can you tell us about that?
… I have to admit I lost some breath at the bold question. This young lady was dead serious in her questions and desperately needing a real and practical answer. My response was knee jerk and I still regret how shallow it came out. “Talk with your minister, your parents, or a counselor”.
I still can see the look of disappointment in this child’s eyes when she heard the standard answer to such a heavy question until then, unasked. However, it was the most important question all night. I didn’t give her what she needed. After all, we had dealt with that very dilemma and as his parents, along with the capable help of counselors and ministers, we still couldn’t save him.
Through the following weeks after the youth group meeting, I prayed and sought wisdom on this most-important question. After a process of elimination of what DOES NOT work, I’m left with one solitary and crystal clear answer to the missing puzzle piece of a meaningful and valued life… simply this: Jesus Christ.
As I mentioned, we had a subsequent invitation to the Methodist Church several weeks after the youth group discussion. That week’s Advent candle was about Joy.
I knew the missing piece had to be identified and the answer had to be ready if and when the question was asked. The answer couldn’t be a traditional response: to get with the counselor or a parent. Although both are important, they are not the missing piece this and other teens need to identify.
So when Sunday at United Methodist came and I was again in front of now a full size church congregation, the pastor finally asked me the puzzling question: “Mark, our church has a number of teens today who you have an opportunity to speak into, following your family’s loss. What do you have to say to them?”
This time, my answer was better
“I know you are struggling right now. Some of you may even be thinking you don’t want to stay the course of your natural life. You may wish to leave early. I understand that and you need to know there is a better way. After living through this as a father, I’ve come to one conclusion, and that is to place your identity in no one nor in anything of this world”.
I went on. “I talk about going to your counselor or to your parent. Well, let me rephrase. Go to The Counselor who is your Heavenly Father and place your faith in a personal relationship with Him alone. We’ve proven the world is full of really cool stuff and millions of distractions. These things can bring about temporary happiness. However, there is a huge difference between happiness and joy.
Happiness is fleeting. It frequently comes but it always goes. Joy in knowing and having a true relationship with our Father in Heaven is ever-lasting even through the sadness and gloom of this world. Jesus didn’t come here to judge you but rather to let you know you are loved beyond any of your shortcomings. So be joy-filled in knowing and trusting this one eternal truth. And Live a life of JOY in HIM”.
Weeks earlier, I had been speechless and without a worthy answer to that young lady’s heartfelt question. This time, though I had sought His guidance and counsel. I was finally relieved to find the one and only missing piece needed to complete the puzzle: Seek Joy in Him.
We spend far too much of our time putting effort into building a perfect image of what we think life should look like. We buy things or plan events, trips, etc. because we long for happiness. Yet, time and experience confirms happiness from things, desires, and even in people are passing things. Every single thing other than the love of Christ will pass away or break down. If you’re missing the puzzle piece of real and lasting joy, you can find it by simply asking Him.
Heavenly Father and perfect Counselor, we accept your promise that if we ask, you will hear our plea. We do that now by seeking a personal and intimate relationship with you, our Creator and Savior. We pray against the temptation to be happiness seekers and instead to find joy in knowing You.
In your Son Jesus’ name we pray, Amen
2 Corinthians 4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Look full in his wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.