Parents And Prodigals
By Timothy Bowie
(Luke 15:12 – 32) God provides everything we need to live successfully in any era, especially since history not only repeats, but so do we. Every generation has had its prodigal children test the wills of their parents. Many of us have been taught that the Parable of the Prodigal Son is a picture of God’s love and patience toward us. Like many of Christ’s teachings, the application is both practical and spiritual. Also, like many of Christ’s teachings, the Parable of the Prodigal is difficult to walk through. For instance, in the parable, we see the son being a selfish, self-centered individual who wants to eat his dessert first. Jesus tells us how the young man parties and squanders his inheritance on earthly pleasures, and finds himself destitute and sleeping with the most unclean of animals available, eating pig scraps and coming to the realisation that he messed up. We don’t know how long the process takes, but we do know that the father sees his son from afar, returning home, and he rushes out to greet him and welcome him home. This part of the parable suggests that the father was watching for his son, waiting anxiously, anticipating his return. Now, let’s see what it’s like in today’s world.
My child, whom I have done my best to raise in the faith, has decided he wants nothing to do with the whole “Judeo Christian belief system”, and Dad and Mom are delusional. This often happens when the child is attending the University, where he gets the ideas put forth by non-believing professors and peers. As the parent, you may or may not know what is going on in your child’s heart, but they know what’s going on in yours. They are determined to stay one step ahead of you, and they think they know how you will react to their slipping away. The thing I totally forgot when my own child fell away is that he was of an age where rebellion was the spice of the day. It seems that, at the time, the process was slow as he struggled to define his beliefs and be accepted by his peers. He was never disrespectful or discourteous; he simply walked away. As his father, I was confused and hurt, of course, but really didn’t know what to do. Oh, I had the same teachings most of us received through the years. I was very familiar with the Parables of Jesus of Nazareth. I even thought I trusted God with everything. Well, in truth, trusting God was not my strong point, which is really only evident in hindsight, as you will see. It’s really a major step to take your hands off of a problem and give it to God, then trust Him to follow through as He promises.
“WOE IS ME!! I have failed! I have failed God, my son, and myself! What a wretched person I must be! Where did I go wrong? How could I fail God like this? How could I have done things differently? Please, God, turn back time and show me the errors of my way!” Does any of this sound familiar? If not, may it never be so. If so, get over yourself! I say that with a heart full of love and eyes misty with tears, because I’ve been there. At some point we all must own up to our individual sin nature. Your prodigal, my prodigal, made choices that were counter to the teachings you tried to instill in him or her. The kid is out there having all the pleasure, however brief, that sin provides, while the father is busy eviscerating his spirit looking for all he did wrong! Who doesn’t like fun? Well, sin eventually quits being fun, because God created a universe of checks and balances, and sin eventually begins to pinch. Somewhere, some- when, we all have to pay the price sin demands, unless, of course, you allow God’s own blood sacrifice to pay for your sins, which, after all, is God’s ultimate plan.
Guess what? You can not make all the choices for your young adult child, your adult child, or even your teenager! While you are busy trying to “train them up in the way they should go”, their brains are in overdrive trying to figure a way around the rules. The answer to that little truth lies in the sin nature we all carry into this world. That is not an excuse, though. It doesn’t stop the agonizing, or ease the pain you are experiencing. I spent more time on my knees or on my face before God than ever before, pleading for His protection over my child, praying He would bring my child back to Him. I fasted, I wept, I prayed, and if I’d had sackcloth and ashes, I would have sat in the middle of a firepit wailing the troubles of my heart. Nothing would have changed, because God always knows exactly what He is doing and why.
“So what am I supposed to do?”, you ask. You are supposed to do the hardest thing you will ever do. You are supposed to do the bravest thing you will ever do. You have to give your child and the outcome to God. I know that sounds glib, maybe even trite, but it is still true. Children are a gift from God Almighty, but they are not for keeping. They are on loan. God promises that, if we raise our children in His ways, even though they may diverge for a season, they will return to the stream bed in which they were trained. Mixing metaphors can be fun, but what God really says is “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). I truly believe God uses our children to train us, to strengthen our relationship with Him. It is easy to say “I am trusting God to bring my child back to Him”, and it is another thing altogether to really trust God with your most precious gifts. It is an easy thing to quote scripture, but to really trust that God will do what He says He will do is hard, but crucial to your own walk. When I finally heard the truth, I didn’t stop praying and beseeching God, but I quit with the whole sackcloth and ashes thing. God simply pointed out that I had done the best job of which I was capable, but I could not interfere with my child’s free will, just as God refuses to do with us. My child came back, though he still struggles, and that is fine because he knows where his help comes from.
God tells us His ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts. Again, this is not a cop out or dodging the issue. It is the truth of His nature compared to ours. Our job is to stand on the promises He has made because He never fails us. Our God, you see, deals in Truths. His promises are Truth; absolute and incontrovertible Truth that can never be altered by anyone. I urge you to read Ephesians 6, where Paul exhorts us to stand firm, to protect ourselves with the Full Armour of God so we are able to stand. Trust God and stand on His promises, and give Him glory when you see His hand move.