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Dear Pastor Paul,
I have a 16-year-old son who suddenly seems not to care about anything. He does his chores, but half-heartedly. He doesn't seem to care about anything, doesn't want to participate in anything, etc. He has always been a good student; last year he nearly failed his freshman year in high school and is in a special program to bring him up to speed at school this year. This summer he ran away for six days, and I had no idea where he was--I still don't. What can I do to get my son back?

My heart aches for you. It is very hard to see the boy you raised and love turn into someone you don't know. You need to find a support group--through a faith group or other social contacts--that will help you manage during this difficult period. Think long term. Remember that this is just one period in what will hopefully be a long and wonderful relationship with your son.

Next, begin family therapy. You need to open up communication between you and your son. Therapists are generally pleased to find parents who are genuinely concerned for their children and who don't just want to "fix them." It sounds like you are genuinely concerned.

Alice O'Donnell, a certified social worker, suggests these steps to take in beginning family therapy. If you have insurance, start with the company's list of approved family mental-healthcare providers. If not, you can generally find social services listed in the yellow pages, and many have a sliding scale, or possibly a community mental-health center, which can be free. Make sure you shop around until you find a therapist who both you and your son feel comfortable with. If there is no dad in the picture, the therapist should be a man.

Ms. O'Donnell posed two questions that you will want to consider.

  • What happened a year ago that may have triggered this sudden decline in your son? This is not typical adolescent behavior. The event may be something that you don't even know about, yet was very traumatic.
  • How are you helping your son to grow into adulthood by empowering him with more responsibility so that he can gradually separate from you instead of the unresponsiveness and the weeklong runaway that was so harmful to you both.

These are practical beginning steps. My pastoral advice is that you pray unceasingly for your son, for your family, and for yourself. Allow God's love to enter into your heart so that all of what you do with your son is guided with love as its source.

I will be praying for you.

Dear Pastor Paul,
A few questions:

1. How did Noah get all those plants and animals on the ark? We're talking gathering (from all over the earth) animals, not to mention other native (to the areas) insects, worms, bacteria, yeasts...well, you get the idea. He had to gather them and fit them all into the ark. It would take me and my family a thousand years to catch them all.

2. He had to get enough food to feed them all for 40 days, too. He had to keep the rattlesnakes from eating the mice, the lions from eating the pigs (for that matter, Noah could have a cookout, I think he'd be hungry too!).

3. If it rained long enough to cover the earth, how could Noah, his family, the plants, and the animals stand the humidity and climate and still survive? Where did all that rain come from? I don't think our thin atmosphere can have all that water vapor to rain enough to cover the earth.

4. When it dried up, how did he get the plants and animals back to their places? What kind of a world was it? I had a flood in our house; it was muddy everywhere. All my stuff was yucky and muddy and stunk with bacteria. I had to throw out a lot of stuff. We bleached and replaced our walls. What we couldn't replace, we used bleach to kill the bacteria. It was totally gross.

I guess that's a lot of questions.

--David Ingold

Dear David,

Wow! Such attention to detail. I think you may have a future as a project manager. Sorry to hear about your house in the flood, though. It does sound totally gross.

I gather that you're finding the story of Noah's Ark somewhat hard to believe. There are many people of faith who do not believe that this scripture is historical, but rather it's meant to convey several important theological themes. Specifically, the story of Noah's Ark references the vengeful power of God when faced with the unrepentant wickedness of people, the trust in God that Noah exhibited even when faced with the skeptical ridicule of his neighbors, and God's promise of mercy forever forward--symbolized by the rainbow.

People of faith who believe that the Bible relates historical fact view this story with much the same moral conclusion, but believe that God makes possible things that seem impossible--even a boat ride without a cookout.


  • Read more on the different ways people interpret the Bible.

  • Dear Pastor Paul,
    Why is it Methodist and other not-so-conservative churches don't have midweek Bible study? I like going to adult Bible study, which means I am limited to a conservative church. My beliefs aren't like theirs.


    Dear Wondering,
    Many mainline churches* do offer midweek Christian educational opportunities, although sometimes more liberal churches will substitute other kinds of Christian ed. for Bible study. I suggest you go to the pastor of the church that you like, but that does not offer a Bible study, and offer to host one in your home. If I know pastors (and I do), they will jump on the opportunity!

    * Mainline churches are Protestant denominations that have been around long enough to have established churches, national institutions, and name recognition nationwide. The most prominent are Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian, and Congregational.

    Pastor Paul has worked with young people in the Twin Cities, Seattle, Sao Paulo, and New York City. He currently is a chaplain at Columbia University in New York City.