Dear Emuna,

My 11-year-old son is coping with a difficult family situation and chronic disease, and refuses to pray. He says, “God can help him in a fraction of a second yet He chooses not to do so. So why should I bother talking to such a God?” What would be the right approach to this sweet little boy? I must say he is doing great in school but misbehaves a lot at home. When I tell him something about his behavior he answers, ''I am not to blame for having such a hard life.'' I agree life is not simple for him but I want him to see the good parts of life and not to view himself as a victim.

Agonizing Mom

Dear Agonizing Mom,

I empathize with your desire to have your son focus on the positive and not see himself as a victim while simultaneously empathizing with your son’s frustration. Not knowing the details of your situation, I can only speak in generalities. When someone is in the middle of a challenging situation, it’s usually not the time to give them rebuke or tools for personal growth. They just want understanding and any other suggestions will probably fall on deaf ears.

As much as his lack of praying and lack of desire to do so bothers you, nagging him about it will probably push him away. In general I’d leave him be – but be on the lookout for a quiet, thoughtful moment when you could gently raise some ideas about how to cope, about having a more positive perspective, about maintaining faith and trust in the midst of our challenges. Sometimes there’s a quiet moment right before bed that sets the tone for that type of conversation, sometimes there isn’t. Don’t rush it, be patient and let him slowly figure things out.

That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be consequences for misbehaving. Whatever his challenges, he should still get the same punishments for his behavior that you would have given otherwise – whether it’s time in his room or time off the computer or whatever works in your family. Allowing him to get away with inappropriate behavior because you feel sorry for him will end up creating a monster.

Additionally you should work on modeling the type of behavior you’d like him to emulate. He shouldn’t hear you on the phone to your friends complaining about how unfair your life is and how impotent your prayer is. He should instead hear you pray with intention, hear you pour out your heart to the Creator; witness your trust and optimism in the face of your difficulties. I know that’s a tall order but as they say, actions speak louder than words. If your actions reinforce his negative beliefs, it’s unlikely he’ll be spurred to learn and grow. But if your actions support a more positive, faith-based approach, chances are that ultimately – maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow – he’ll end up adopting that as well.

I Don’t Want to Hurt My Boyfriend

Dear Emuna,

My friend and I have been in a romantic relationship for a year. He is the explorer type and he said clearly at the beginning that he was not looking for a committed relationship. The question is I see myself wanting to have recognition from this relationship. I want to do many things with him together. I have thought to take a break in this relationship more than couple times. However, I feel so bad to hurt his feelings. If we continue this, I won’t feel fulfilled, and then he will bad for himself because I am sad. How should I move on?

Someone with a kind heart

Dear Confused,

I’m very sorry but I don’t think this is a case of having a kind heart. No one benefits from a situation where neither side feels fulfilled. I don’t know you so I may be way off base but my guess is that this is not about kindness but rather about fear. If you end this relationship, you will be alone. That is scary and painful and, obviously, lonely.

I don’t think you are afraid of hurting him; I think you are afraid of hurting yourself. And I don’t blame you. But I think you need to be a little more honest with yourself. You claim that you are not getting what you want from this relationship. Have you discussed this with him or are you expecting him to read your mind? Have you given him a chance to rectify this situation or are you just assuming that’s who he is and he can’t change?

There are so many details left out of your letter that it’s a little difficult to determine exactly what’s happening here. If he is unwilling to change or not open to your concerns, then you have to make a decision. Are you willing to live with the relationship as is or not? If you are, then you need to let go of your other desires and accept what you have. If you are not, you need to recognize that you are not being kind to him or to yourself by staying in a relationship where you are unhappy and that has no future. The kindest thing you could do for both of you would be to end it.

Don’t confuse compassion with kindness and don’t confuse your own fears of loneliness with concern for him. I know it’s a tough message but I hope it will help you get clarity on the decision you need to make.