Parenting: Looking For the Prodigal Seeds

Image courtesy of artur84/freedigitalimages.com

It’s been a while since I blogged about my personal story. In some ways, I’ve been avoiding it because I’ve reached a point in the story where things began to fall apart for my younger daughter. I’ve blogged about her teen pregnancy, and I’ve posted several blogs about the prodigal, hoping to discover wisdom for myself as I share the current situation.

I haven’t talked about the years between the teen pregnancy and her current situation.  She’s almost 37 years old, so that pregnancy was some time ago.

So, what happened?

I can’t point to one thing. It’s a series of events and choices.

From the time she was three, she started doting on younger kids. She was great with them. You could see she adored children. I watched and realized that some day she would be a wonderful mother. But events changed that part of her. After she gave up her son for adoption, her interest in younger children evaporated. I’m not surprised by that, but I am saddened by it.

Instead, she focused on her studies, on activities with church and the school chorus and band, and on spending time with friends. I recall one Friday night, she and her friends showed up at our house shortly before her curfew, seeking shelter from a bad storm. I suggested the girls call their parents to let them know they were safe and at our home. Their response shocked me: they didn’t have a curfew, and their parents wouldn’t worry. Only one girl made a phone call.

What!?

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. Proverbs 22:15

My children always had a curfew. I expected them to let me know where they were and who they were with. These 16-year-old girls didn’t have any boundaries. As I dug deeper into the situation, I discovered that most of my daughters’ classmates did not have rules about where they were or when they came home.

At the time, my daughter expressed thanks that we cared enough to know she was safe. It wasn’t long before she pushed for the same freedoms her friends had, though.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Ephesians 6:1-3

As our children grow older, the choices made for them become a two-way street. We eventually lose control over what they are doing. The teen years is not the time to lose that control, but that’s what happened with her friends. Either the parents wanted to be “friends” with their children or chose to not fight with their kids in order to enforce rules.

I stuck to my rules, but that’s when things began to fall apart.

Strength Through Hardships

If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.butterfly

In case you didn’t know it, this is not a Bible verse. Most people disagree on the source of this quote, attributions  differing from a Chinese proverb to Maimonides to Anne Isabella Ritchey. No matter its source, it shares a wisdom that we can find reflected in this passage in Matthew:

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.  Matthew 4:18-20

They left their nets and followed Jesus, seeking to fish for the souls of people. In Luke’s telling of this story, we learn that Jesus first asked Simon and Andrew to let him use their boat as a place to stand away from the gathering crowds as he spoke to them. After he finished speaking, this happened:

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.  So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. Luke 5:4-7

Even though he just changed their immediate income needs, they chose to follow him. Why? Because he could show them how to save people rather go fishing every day. Which choice was harder to make? If we’re honest, following Jesus had to be a difficult decision. The Bible tells us that they followed Jesus willingly, but I bet they thought about the hardships this might cause their families and themselves. Yet they went. It was the better choice and changed their lives forever.

I wrote a few weeks ago about my daughter and how to recognize a prodigal, concluding that she is not a prodigal, yet, because she still expects something from me and others. She’s unwilling to face her struggles on her own.

When we raise our children, we want to give them everything. As a single parent, I couldn’t, but that doesn’t mean I made wise decisions. There were times I tried to eliminate her struggles because I knew the pains (I imagined) she had suffered due to my poor choices early in life.  Did I do the right thing?

I’ll never know. She did experience hardships, and definitely is doing so now. Were there ones I should have allowed her to face that I stepped in and removed the obstacles too soon?

I’m reminded of the butterfly and its cocoon. If you’re not familiar with it, I’ve included it below:

Once a little boy was playing outdoors and found a fascinating caterpillar. He carefully picked it up and took it home to show his mother. He asked his mother if he could keep it, and she said he could if he would take good care of it. The little boy got a large jar from his mother and put plants to eat, and a stick to climb on, in the jar. Every day he watched the caterpillar and brought it new plants to eat.

One day the caterpillar climbed up the stick and started acting strangely. The boy worriedly called his mother who came and understood that the caterpillar was creating a cocoon. The mother explained to the boy how the caterpillar was going to go through a metamorphosis and become a butterfly.

The little boy was thrilled to hear about the changes his caterpillar would go through. He watched every day, waiting for the butterfly to emerge. One day it happened, a small hole appeared in the cocoon and the butterfly started to struggle to come out.

At first the boy was excited, but soon he became concerned. The butterfly was struggling so hard to get out! It looked like it couldn’t break free! It looked desperate! It looked like it was making no progress! The boy was so concerned he decided to help. He ran to get scissors, and then walked back (because he had learned not to run with scissors…). He snipped the cocoon to make the hole bigger and the butterfly quickly emerged!

As the butterfly came out the boy was surprised. It had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. He continued to watch the butterfly expecting that, at any moment, the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to support the swollen body. He knew that in time the body would shrink and the butterfly’s wings would expand.

But neither happened!

The butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly…

If we remove the hardships, we remove the opportunities for a person to thrive. By no means did I, or could I, remove all of the obstacles in my daughter’s life. She had plenty, and she is living many more now. I’ll never know if there was one I should have left for her to stumble over. What I do know is, unlike the butterfly, she can still become strong.

We must let our loved ones struggle, or they will never fly.  This is not ever easy to do as the observer.

Something to think about as you go throughout your day.

 

What Makes Someone a Prodigal?

Image courtesy of Sommai at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Sommai at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” Luke 15:21

Not every wayward child qualifies as a prodigal.

That’s a hard pill to swallow.

I’ve written about my daughter a few times in relation to the prodigal story. I love and pray for her, and as the father in this parable does, I watch for her to return. The difference between the parable and her situation is how the child returns. My daughter has come home or asked to come home a few times, but she never has come back stating the words expressed by the prodigal son in Luke 15:21. She still wants a handout. She still wants acceptance and a place in the fold as if she’s done nothing wrong. That is not a prodigal’s return.

Although the story of the prodigal son gives us hope when we have a wayward family member, there are some significant points we must remember.

  1. Jesus told this story to explain how God greets the repentant sinner. He rejoices when a sinner turns away from sin and acknowledges his mistakes, not expecting a return to the position he had before. The beauty of this repentance is that God does give him that position of honor. He does not become less in God’s eyes because of his mistakes.
  2. The son realizes his mistake and returns but not expecting to step right back into the life he had. When she turns from her sin, she should do so with the realization that she deserves nothing. God will give her everything; she will become His daughter, but she must understand that this is His grace to give, not her due.
  3. This story is about who needs salvation. It’s not about the children in our lives who wander away from our family’s fold, although they do need salvation in most cases. Can we still apply it in that way? Sure, but we must remember that the parable was a response to who Jesus ate and socialized with:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-2

Why am I taking the time to explore this? Because my daughter has not qualified as the prodigal child. Yet. Her words and actions tell me she hasn’t accepted any responsibility for her life choices. She still wants me to bail her out. I can’t. I’ve actually tried that only to lose her again.

To be a prodigal, the person must accept his own responsibility in what drew him away. She must turn away from the life she’s fallen into. He must take the steps necessary to leave the poor life choices behind. She must show her heart in a way that tells us she is the prodigal come home.