By Carol Barnier
You run into an old friend at your homeschool support group you haven’t seen in quite some time. You do a bit of catch-up, the chit chat goes on for a while, and then, here it comes—the question you’ve been dreading—“So, how’s that daughter [or son] of yours doing?”
Paste on that smile. Take in a quick breath, but inside, die . . . just a bit.
Of course, you know precisely which child she’s talking about—the one who surprised you all by turning her back on God, then the family, then doing a 180 from all that you value, finally stepping solidly into the world and away from faith. Yeah. That kid.
Parenting a Prodigal
You are now at a crossroads in this conversation. How will you respond?
Well, you could choose Path A—tell the truth.
My kid is in deep spiritual trouble. Her father and I are heartbroken. It’s been incredibly painful to watch her make so many poor choices. It’s even possible that we will not see the face of our child in heaven. And what’s more, we’re worried it might be our fault. Thanks for asking.
Or, you could try Path B and do that little church-speak dance.
Well. . .she’s finding herself, trying to determine what it is God wants of her at this point in her life. We’re still hoping she’ll become a surgeon on the mission field, but that may be more our wishes than God’s. [Insert quick laugh.] We’ll just have to wait and see. [Now insert a quick redirect.] So how’s your little Bobby doing? Is he still sending all his money to that orphanage in the Sudan? [Raise eyebrows, indicating eager anticipation. Wait for listener to launch into the Bobby-Praise report.]
I completely understand if the truth model makes your palms sweat. Frankly, hesitation is justified. There’s a good chance that if you open your heart and share your pain transparently with this sister in Christ, you may get whacked for it. By that I mean, she may be very quick to let you know that you must have screwed up somehow, or your child would have been faithful to the God of her youth.
Proverbs and Promises
You wouldn’t be the first parent bludgeoned with the famous but misused “Train up a child . . .” passage from Proverbs. I know that many people still buy into the oft-believed but yet unscriptural interpretation that your child can’t go wrong if you’ve parented right. And they’re often filled with angst at their sad duty of being the one to share it with you. But think about it. . .this interpretation would require that God has now become your vending machine. Plug in just the right mix of coins, and God is obligated to produce the snack treat of your choice.
I actually contacted several theologians to find out why the promise of this verse doesn’t seem to always play out as. . .well, as promised. Every single one of them corrected me in the exact same way. Proverbs was never meant to be read as promises. They are directives for God’s best for our lives. They are good instructions. They provide insight into the goodness and righteousness that is God. But they are not promises.
It makes sense. Do you know any wealthy person who is lazy? And conversely, do you know of any hard working person who is poor? If Proverbs were promises, you wouldn’t know any of these. In chapter 10, verse 4 we read:
"Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth."
For all its glory, for all its treasures, Proverbs is not a book of promises. And the painful truth is that sometimes, even with the best of parenting, children can go on to make choices that break our hearts and take them far from God. (Click to tweet!)
People who come to you with this verse in hand, suggesting that you’ve blown it, I think typically mean well. But I’m also just as convinced that they are very wrong. So how are you now to respond to this person standing before you, asking about your child?
Let me suggest to you that there is an alternative response you can give—not Plan A: The Naked Truth Plan, Not Plan B: The Church-Speak Dance, but rather a Plan C. Like Plan A, it involves speaking the truth. But for starters, it accepts the likely outcome that your listener will unfairly judge you. Expect it. Own it. Don’t even hold it against her, because your listener doesn’t know any better.
Share the truth without the expectation of compassion.
In the end, your sharing wasn’t really for her. Believe it or not, it also wasn’t really for you. It actually is a lifeline to a needy soul. You share on the possibility that this person might . . . just maybe . . . could perhaps . . . be one of the many people who have someone in their own life they are losing. And if they are, they know exactly what you’re going through because they are going through it as well. Put the truth out there, let it get around, because there is someone in exactly the same situation, who believes they are alone.
This person needs to hear truth from you.
There are so many people in the pews every Sunday who have struggles going on at home who will never breathe a word of it at church—especially if that struggle involves a child questioning the faith. They not only know that many people will judge them as bad parents, they fear that judgment might just be correct. It’s all too much. So they will remain silent.
But by you sharing the truth, and also proclaiming the fact that children have the ability to choose poorly often in spite of clearly loving parents, you put a small light at the end of a very big tunnel. You let them know that they’re not alone. You let them know that they can survive.
You even let them know that they can have joy in spite of such pain. Support groups for parents of prodigals are popping up all over.
Maybe it’s time for one in your church?
Originally published at hedua.com