Prodigal children

Photo by pat138241. Courtesy of
Photo by pat138241. Courtesy of

Let me just say it up front: you can do everything you know to do as a parent to be patient and understanding, firm but loving. You can sacrifice for your children, providing for them in a million and one ways that they don’t seem grateful for and perhaps don’t even notice. You can pray for them every day, take them to church, and share family devotions with them.

And in spite of all this, they can still make decisions that will break your heart.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that the things mentioned above don’t matter, far from it. But there are no guarantees in the sometimes hilarious, sometimes heart-wrenching vocation of raising kids.

I recently had the privilege of conducting an all-day seminar for a small group of parents at a local congregation. Their kids were still young, and the concerns were familiar: not just practical issues, but emotional ones as well. Parents were perpetually tired and frequently frustrated. But underneath were the usual desires and doubts. Am I doing okay by my kids? Are they going to turn out all right?

I teach a model of parenting as discipleship (I’ll probably say more about that in future posts). Like it or not, our children are our disciples, learning from what we say and do, absorbing the lessons that we teach by intention and those we may unintentionally teach by example. Yes, it makes a difference for us to be the best examples we can. But our children will still have to make their own decisions, and sometimes those decisions will take them down roads we never imagined.

There could not have been a better or wiser mentor than Jesus, who bound twelve men to himself in love. But the Bible paints them as a rather boneheaded lot at times, capable of both faith and foolishness, even to the extent of outright betrayal. Surely they never forgot Jesus’ example — it just took the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to bring that example to fruition.

Or take Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. What child could possibly treat such a generous and loving father so shabbily? And how could such a father himself be so prodigal with his love and forgiveness?

We are not Jesus. We are not God. We are the prodigal, every last one of us.

And so are our children.

Prodigals raising prodigals? That doesn’t sound like a formula for success. But it might remind us that if our children are flawed disciples, then so are we, constantly indebted to the abundant mercy of a forgiving Father, grateful for the gift of his Spirit.

Lord knows, we need it.