I was feeling led to write about saying good-byes, thinking I would share about the times my daughter has left for the mission field. But looking at our Facebook page and the discussions and prayer requests, I think that the good-bye I need to write about is releasing a prodigal child to God.
In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus shares the Parable of the Lost Son, or Prodigal Son. It is a wonderful story that shares how our God, as the Father, is always ready to celebrate and welcome us in, or back in, to His presence. I think too, it’s a beautiful example to prepare us that sometimes our kids make bad decisions, and we too, need to welcome them back into our home, or our life.
Our son, Jason (he gave me permission to use his name) was the “best” kid in high school. Not only was he a top academic student, he was also a top athlete….and in a small town, THAT carries a LOT of weight. He was a VERY LARGE fish in a VERY SMALL pond. The kind of person, who at the end of the day would drive through a fast food place and the manager would comp his meal. That as a college student, the policeman that pulled him over for speeding would issue his warning asking if he was going to get to hear his name on the radio next year during football season. He played soccer in the fall, kicked for football his Jr and Sr years, and was the catcher for baseball in the spring. He was a student leader in his church, on campus, and in the community. He was the kid that everyone loved. EVERYONE.
He was renown for his abilities, but mostly for his walk with God. He testified with his life, of all God’s goodness. His faith was solid.
I was proud of Jason’s decisions as he had transitioned from a homeschooled kid (grades 1-8), into a public high school student, and then a college student. He alone chose his college, his field of study, his sport. We prayed hard – SO hard – for these decisions to be the best ones for his walk with God too. He chose to go to a fairly local, secular, state college, but he got involved with Christian Campus House (CCH) right away, and pulled a high GPA his freshman year to sustain his Academic and Leadership scholarships. He had redshirted his first year in football (Kicker), and although he was not on a sports scholarship, he fully invested himself in the program, despite the new coach not appreciating him being there. He took his first big mission trip to Kenya over the summer, and was more passionate than ever to pursue missions after college was over.
Then something happened his sophomore year, and he…changed…
I don’t know if it was pressure from the football program, from his classes, from seeing kids on scholarship that skated through class without studying; or if it was just the sense of freedom that took off, or pride, or peer pressure….I honestly don’t know what it was. But he really changed in so many ways.
Ultimately, he made decisions that affected the rest of his college career. He made choices that could have hurt him for the rest of his life, and have changed him for the rest of his life. And there was nothing we could do about it. We tried to talk with him about his choices. About his grades. About changing schools, majors, schedules, dropping sports altogether, changing a circle of friends. It all fell on deaf ears.
When he started sharing more about a certain girl, an international student he had befriended, red flags popped up all over. It was not just the over-protective mom concerned that there was a girl in his life; this was a non-believer, with a group of non-believing friends, influencing him – instead of him influencing her/them. For the first time in our life, we had to go over the house rules when he brought a group over for the holidays. No laying down on the couch together was the hardest one for me to keep insisting on. It was evident that their relationship had crossed over into areas that were completely inappropriate, but we insisted that while they were in our home, that they abide by house rules. The same rules we had with our daughters, but never once had to remind them of. This was SO different, and we were in completely unchartered territory.
That’s how some of the worst 3 years in my life started. Now I realize that we are all in different places in our faith walk, and in our convictions as to what that walk means, but me – who was not raised Christian, who was raised in a non-Christian home, had been sexually abused as a child and pre-teen, and became a very promiscuous teen ager who dabbled in any religion (outside of Christianity) and just about every drug; I had a solid sense of boundaries for my kids while raising them. They always had good mentors in place, college students from a local Christian college who would feed into their faith, and show that it’s cool to be in your 20’s and be a Christian with a strong relationship with God. But this season of life with Jason – where he was still DOING Christian things, like playing drums in the worship team, going to CCH, was involved in other Christian groups, and played the part of the Christian back in his hometown – was making choices completely contrary to what God’s Word said to do, how to behave, how to live.
For Mark and I, we had to enter a season of “tough-love” for him. We knew that he was drinking (I believe he waited till he was 21, but he was still being irresponsible with his actions then), and that he had lost all his scholarships for school. He chose to take light schedules in his class schedule, making time for drinking and dancing at clubs (To clarify, I’m not against going out and having a good time, dancing, or even an occasional drink – but his balance was way out of line, to the point that that and computer games became more important than his coursework.). As his habits became worse, we reminded him that if he lost his scholarships, he would have to take on that financial responsibility (we had a 50/50 arrangement for college with each of our kids, as long as they were trying their hardest to pass classes and proceed to the next level; but Jason’s actions forced us to withdraw financial support for his schooling all together). We entered into a season of tough love; knowing that we didn’t trust him with any financial contributions we made for him. We would take him grocery shopping, or drop off groceries. We tried to meet with him occasionally, usually on Sunday’s after we went to church (without him). It was hard to see him change physically, and spiritually. The light left his eyes, even though he never denied Christ. He was backsliding.
I asked Jason today – who is a few years older, wiser, walking stronger with God and recently engaged to a wonderful Christian woman – what made a difference, and what could we have done better. I realize that each of us is different, and each of our kids is different too!! But here are a few things that we discussed:
1. Prayer is always good. Even the tough prayer – “Lord, do WHATEVER You need to do to restore this child’s walk with You” is good. Offer to pray WITH them (not the hard prayer) and not just say we are praying for them.
2. Remind them of the house rules. Don’t be afraid to say “I recognize you are an adult…but in our house, these are the rules…”. Make it hard for sin to take place in your home. (When Jason was with us after he graduated, living for a short season, we didn’t allow him to be in our house with a girl alone. Period. We provided a bench on the front porch that they could sit on instead.)
3. Love them, but don’t be afraid to “tough love” them. He always knew we were there for him, but it was going to be on our conditions, based on Biblical principles. If he needed gas money to get to work, we put it in his tank – so we were sure that it didn’t go for going out. For a season he lived alone in a green house (really), and we sent him Subway gift cards. You might have to be creative, and it hurts to see our kids flounder, but it gives them the courage to stand up on their own, when God moves them to.
4. Don’t rescue them. If they make a mistake that impacts their future, they need to choose what to do about it, and “suffer” the consequences of their sin. We had a pack that we’d never bail him out of jail….thankfully, we didn’t ever get that call…but we made a plan, and he was aware of it.
5. Make sure that you and your spouse are on the same page, with whatever you decide. Even if you play “good parent/bad parent” – be aware of what it is that the other is doing, and work together on it.
6. Speak the name of Jesus over that child, or into that situation. There were a few days that it was all I could do. Like the song “You’re Great Name” by Natalie Grant, “the enemy, he has to leave, at the sound of Your Great Name”. Satan can not be where Jesus is given control. It brought peace to my broken heart feeling the burden of guilt, the sin of worry, and to RELEASE CONTROL of that moment to God, who loves Jason even more than I.
7. Be real. Be honest. Don’t be sneaky. There were a few times that God would give me a scripture that spoke to my heart and I would post it on Facebook in my status, and Jason took it that I was posting it for him to read. He even unfriended me for a season (it was heartbreaking!!). It was coincidence in that case, but be sensitive as to what you are putting out there, it may do more harm than good.
8. Keep talking truth, light, and life into their lives. Don’t brush over with friends and say that “oh, they’re just doing fine” – be honest and say something along the lines of “he’s in a difficult season right now, and could really use your prayers” and maybe even ask if you can pray THAT MOMENT with a friend for your child/children. God uses our trials to build up our community, the body of Christ!!
I’m sorry to say that there is not any way to keep this from happening, no magic inoculation, no wall tall enough to keep them from trying what the world has to offer. I’m forever grateful that God brought Jason back into the fold, that His mercies are new every morning – even in my own life. I know that He was walking alongside me that whole time, and that He had a hand of protection on Jason’s life too. He also protected our marriage, by allowing good communication and prayer to take place in our home.
How have YOU handled the situation with your “prodigal child”, and would you do anything differently? How can we pray for each other today?? (Pray for the person above you in the comments area please, and however else God leads you to pray!)
(NOTE: for another view on the Parable of the Prodigal, please see a post I wrote a while back over at Auntie Em Writes at : http://auntieemwritesat.blogspot.com/search/label/prodigal%20son )