Prodigals and our Response

I wanted to make a resource available to you today. It is a free download to be used to encourage parents with prodigal children. There is much more that could be written, but this is a beginning. May it be a help to those who read it.

Prodigals and our Response

This is also available on my resource page.

Christmas Imperfection

The year is almost over.  I had reserved this date to give you a glowing report with pictures of how beautiful our Christmas Eve was.  Here were my plans.

A month ago I had built a campfire with wood that was too big for our fireplace.  Imagining we would have loads of snow by Christmas I carefully covered it with a tarp.  I envisioned us huddling around the campfire on Christmas Eve, reading the Christmas story and singing “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night”. I even went so far as to order paper Chinese lanterns. the kind that have a small fuel cell. When lit they would gently lift into the sky to represent the angels who had visited the shepherds.  It would be magical.  The grandkids would always remember it and we would be swept away with the wonder of that first Christmas.

Now for the real story.

What little snow we had was now gone. It looked like Christmas would be warm and muddy.

The paper lanterns arrived.  I had ordered 11. I wanted a multitude of heavenly hosts!! My husband suggested we light one of the lanterns in the daylight so we could do it more smoothly in the dark. When I opened one of the packages I was stunned with how large it was. It was about 4 ft. tall and half as wide. We carefully took it out into our side yard which is surrounded by 40 ft. evergreens. There didn’t seem to be any wind, which was good. The package warned against lighting them in windy conditions. It also warned against using them within 5 miles of an airport. Hmmm. Maybe I had gotten in over my head. (The word Danger was written more than once on the package too. It should have been a clue.) We carefully held the lantern on its side and lit the fuel cell. Once it was burning vigorously we turned it right side up. Within a couple of minutes it was tugging to escape our grasp. I imagined it would gently rise, hover awhile and then slowly come back to earth when the fuel was used up. My husband told me to let go and it lifted 5 feet…15 feet…and was soon higher than we imagined. It did a couple of summersaults but righted itself both times. We tried following it, but it was soon soaring higher and faster than we could keep up with. It soon completely disappeared into the mist. Thankfully it was a drizzly day so any danger of fire was minimized. We just stood staring at the sky wondering what to do. Now that it is a week later and there have been no reports of a barn fire started by a mysterious flaming object, I can breathe a sigh of relief.

Well, at least we had the campfire. Unfortunately on Christmas Eve night there was a steady drizzle. No fire that night.

fire

We ended up trying to light the fire Christmas afternoon. After spending at least 30 minutes working on the fire it fizzled out. I went in discouraged. My son-in-law finally got it started after using some mystery ingredients.

The grandkids (ages 4, 5 & 8) were very excited and started pretending they were shepherds.  They screamed a few times around the campfire (being afraid of the angels) and then walked around the meadow twice following the path to the star, which was placed conveniently on our house. IMG_0454_edited-1

They told the Christmas story to each other and even sang a little as they went. Their version was more exciting than mine would have been.

After supper they went out with a multitude of glow sticks to enjoy the fire some more.

campfire

I tried taking pictures, but they didn’t stand still long enough for them to be in focus. I guess that means they were enjoying themselves. All of the pictures of Christmas I took this year are blurry.

I’m suspecting if there had been a photographer that first Christmas his pictures would have also been blurry. Too much excitement. Too much activity. Nice pictures are made when everyone is sitting still and even a little bored. So these pictures aren’t going to win any prizes, but they give you a glimpse into our very imperfect, busy, excitement filled Christmas. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Here’s hoping your Christmas was less than you wanted and more than you expected.

house

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, watching their flock during the night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. Then the angel told them, “Stop being afraid! Listen! I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. Today your Savior, the Lord Messiah, was born in the city of David. And this will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a feeding trough.” Suddenly a multitude of the Heavenly Army appeared with the angel, praising God by saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to people who enjoy his favor!” (Luke 2:8-14  ISV)

Prodigal Children (Part 3) – How to Help

Prodigal children.  They seem to be more plentiful these days.  Time after time I am seeing children from solid Christian homes turn their back on their parents’ faith and walk away.  They are not just leaving for a couple months. Many of them have been gone for years. The broken hearted parents are struggling to have hope their prodigal will ever return to the God and family who loves them.

A prodigal can sap all the energy from a family.  Their misdeeds are emotionally and financially draining. The physical toll on parents can also be substantial.  The stress can cause physical illness.

How do we respond? How should we respond? Here are some suggestions.

1.  Don’t quote Proverbs 22:6 to them.  I don’t know how many times people told me, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” They meant it as an encouragement. What I heard was an accusation. “I must not have done it right.”  You need to remember that Proverbs is not a book of promises. Proverbs is a book of principles. It consists of guidelines for wise living. There are many promises in scripture. Proverbs 22:6 is not one of them.

2. Don’t tell them you know their child will turn around.  They just need to be patient.  The hard reality is you don’t know if they will.  There are prodigals in my own family who never did come to faith.  Certainly the hope is there, but some prodigals never repent.  Our job is to pray that they do, but we can’t promise someone they will.

3. Do ask the parents how they are coping.  Often there is concern for the child in trouble when the parents are the ones who are bearing the brunt of all that is going on.

4. Tell the parents you are praying for them and for their child. Don’t ask a lot of questions. Most parents would rather not review the latest trouble with you. If you ask them they will either answer “fine.” (which isn’t true), answer vaguely or won’t answer at all.

5. Give them an opportunity to tell you what their latest struggles are, but don’t ask them a lot of questions. Don’t be offended by silence. They simply might be unable to vocalize the trouble to you. Just that you brought it up can be a comfort to them.

6. Listen when they talk about their child. That they are talking at all is good. I once had a woman ask me how I was doing. When I told her “It’s been a very bad week.” she responded by nodding her head, turning around and walking away. She never asked me that question again.

7. If they have to meet with law enforcement or their child has to go to court, offer to go with them. To have a familiar friend sitting beside you can be the difference between hope and despair.

8. Tell them you are sorry. They are grieving the loss of their hopes and dreams for their child.  Grieving what might have been. They need to know that others are grieving with them.

9. Don’t be afraid to cry with them. I once had a friend call to ask how I was doing.  When I told her the awful things that were going on she didn’t offer advice, she wept with me. Those tears are still precious to me.

10. Don’t make a point of telling them how well your children are doing, or how proud you are of each one. If they do ask about your children, however, tell them the truth. When I was going through the worst of it with one of my children I often called a friend with charming children. I would start the conversation with, “I need to hear about some kids that are doing well.” I meant it, but I was the one to ask. She never brought it up.

11. Don’t tell them what they did wrong. Most people who give advice have no idea what parents are going through. They see a very different picture in public from what goes on at home. Prodigals tend to be very charming in public. They also are very good at twisting reality. I remember sitting at my kitchen table with a nineteen year old who was explaining to me what we were doing wrong. I responded with one or two comments and then silently listened. He obviously believed one side and I didn’t have the strength to explain it all to him. Thankfully he left after about 30 minutes.

12. Continue to include them in things. They feel isolated already. They assume people don’t want to be around them. Even if they decline your invitation, they will be thankful that you thought of them.

13. Above all, pray for them. Pray that they wouldn’t become utterly discouraged. Pray that their focus would shift from their own lack to God’s amazing grace. Pray that their child would turn their heart back to the God who loves them and the family that longs for reconciliation. Pray for the family as they go through some of the hardest days, months or years they will ever know. Pray that they would learn day by day to cling to the God who loves them in spite of their imperfect parenting skills. Most importantly, pray that their joy would be found in God alone, not in their children.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, preserving in tribulation, devoted to prayer, . . . Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” (Romans 12:10-12, 15, 16 NASB)

 

 

Prodigal Children (Part 2)

“Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward.” (Psalm 127:3 NASB)

 

That verse can be a puzzle to a family in crisis.  They have watched this little one turn against them and the God they love with such fierceness it takes their breath away.  What happened to the fairytale picture? And, frankly, this doesn’t seem like much of a gift or a reward.

We all do the job of parenting imperfectly so when our children turn their back on God we blame ourselves. We were either too hard or not hard enough. Whichever side we err on we wish we had gone the other way.

There will also be plenty of people to point out our short comings. Society and the church blame the parents for a troubled child. If only you had loved them more, spoiled them less, given them more rules, given them less rules, loved them unconditionally, set more boundaries, given tough love, built up their self-esteem, given them more responsibility, worked on projects together. You should have given them more freedom and allowed them to be their own person.  The list is endless.

Because of these reactions many parents of prodigals go underground. They know their child is in trouble, but they don’t want to be honest with the church at large because it is so unacceptable.

If you are under the mistaken impression that only bad parents have troubled children let’s look at Genesis 3.  God was a hands on parent. He formed Adam and breathed life into him. He loved Adam and Eve perfectly and unconditionally. They had an extensive father/son project in naming all the animals. He gave them the responsibility of tending and caring for the garden. He gave them many “yesses” and only one “no.” He spent time walking with them in the cool of the day. Then God, the perfect parent, watched his children turn away in rebellion. When confronted Adam tried to shift the blame to Eve and even God. (Gen. 3:12) There is no blaming God for the result. The rebellion was not because of a mistake in parenting.

This is a problem as old as time and yet we still expect children from Christian homes to fall perfectly in line. When they don’t we usually find fault with the parents. In our blame shifting world we forget that our children are ultimately responsible before God for the decisions they make. We as imperfect parents are going to give them plenty of excuses to disobey. But when God says, “Children obey your parents,” there isn’t an escape clause that says “only if your parents are doing it right.”

We are responsible before God to be the best parents we can be. We need God’s daily grace to even come close to that goal. We also must remember that our children are responsible before God to obey. They need God’s daily grace to follow the instructions of imperfect parents.

If you are a parent with a prodigal don’t despair.  The pain you are feeling has been felt by God many times over.  You have something in common with the God who created you.  While your pain is awful it doesn’t compare to what God feels.  He is showing you a bit of His own experience.  I pray that it will cause you to cling to him all the more.

 

 

 

 

Prodigal Children (part 1)

What does prodigal mean?  This is how Merriman/Webster defines it.

Prodigal – “Characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure.”

When I think of children I relate it to how they are “spending” their lives.  They are wasting their lives on temporary treasure.  They are spending their time pursuing anything but the good God who paid an awful price for their soul.

Prodigals come in many packages.  There are those that are blatantly rebellious.  They refuse to follow their parents rules.  Often that leads to being in trouble with the law.  Pursuing physical thrills is high on their agenda which means they are involved in the abuse of drugs, alcohol and sex.

Then there is the previously compliant child who is swept away by the world’s viewpoint and values.  They have “outgrown” their parents values and faith.  They have found something more interesting or compelling to hold their attention.  Their wanderings aren’t as blatant, but they are just as dangerous.

There are some that are doing exceptionally well by the world’s standards, but they have abandoned the faith their parents so carefully taught them. They may be gifted academically, musically and/or physically and their life is spent wastefully on those pursuits.  The talents they were given as a way to glorify God have now become their god.

Finally, there are those who live a double life of sorts.  They come to church and may even be quite involved, but their hearts are somewhere else.  They are like the Pharisees who knew how to appear righteous, but their hearts were sick. They are spending their lives on religious check lists in public and their own passions in private.  This verse sums it up. “Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for me consists of tradition learned by rote.” (Isaiah 29:13 NASB)

We tend to think of the first example as prodigals.  We don’t often classify the others the same way. All of them are in danger.  All of them need to turn to the God who made them.

If we are honest there is a prodigal of sorts in all of us.  We are wastefully spending our short and precious life on many things that have nothing to do with God.  Just maybe, watching our own children pull fiercely away from God will cause us to cling to God more passionately.

“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18 NASB)

 

Imperfect Parenting

My friend Kristi is a writer.  She writes stories about her family that make you laugh and cry.  She sweeps you away with her phrases.  Her stories are real and honest.  That’s part of why I enjoy reading them.   Here is someone finally telling the truth.  It isn’t the cleaned up version it is simply what happened.  She masterfully includes her readers in her day to day struggles and difficulties.  After reading one of her stories, her adult son said to her, “Don’t you ever get embarrassed?”  I suppose if he were writing he would have left out the mistakes and the foibles.  Those are the very things that make me love her writing.  Her willingness to show her life warts and all gives me courage to face my most imperfect life as well.

We need more honesty.  I don’t mean airing all our dirty laundry, but being honest with our struggles, with our doubts, with our inability to do things right, again.  We don’t do anyone any favors by pretending we have it all together.  (Ourselves included.)

My daughter, Anna, commented the other day about what a relief it is to realize she is not the perfect parent and will never be the perfect parent.  Whether or not her children choose the right path is not in her hands, but in God’s.  She has lost confidence in herself and instead her confidence is in God.  Instead of feeling frantic, she feels relieved.  I am amazed at the maturity she shows.  I think I was past forty before I realized I couldn’t do it right.  That the choices my kids made, good or bad, were not because of me, but because of their own heart’s pull.

I’m going to be writing a few posts over the next few weeks on raising children.  I’ll warn you they will not be the pretty picture you expect.  If you want perfect stories about perfect children you’ll have to go somewhere else.  If you are interested in hearing what I am learning through desperate failure stay tuned.

“Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,” ( 2 Corinthians 3:5 NASB)

 

 

Remembering How to Pray – 2

I struggle to pray.  Oh, I know how.  I do it regularly, but I struggle.  It doesn’t come easily.  It is work.  I have always enjoyed talking face to face with someone.  I’m not one for big groups.  Prayer should be easier for me.  It isn’t.  I want to see this God.  I want to look Him in the face.  Lately I have been praying that God would help me to pray better.  That it would be easier to pray.

I can remember when I was five.  I can remember telling my mom I didn’t want to get any older.  I think I knew life was about as perfect as it gets.  When you are five your connection with God is so strong and true. Praying was easy. It was all very clear to me then.  I prayed believing that my Father heard me. How does it get so muddled?  Why do we complicate it so?

Enter, my granddaughter Arianna, age five.  When she sees me praying she comes over and joins me.  She wants to be included.  Some of her prayers are so real and matter of fact.

“God I want to go to your house today. Do you have happy meals up there?…God, can you send some rain so the grass seed we planted will grow?…God, bring us safely to your house…. God, I miss you so much can you please come today?… God, thank you for this peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the milk….God, it’s so sad that Jesus had to die…. God, thank you that Nana’s mom and dad are there with you….God, I don’t want to be a sinner anymore. I want to be your little girl…. God, help the baby raccoon’s mama find him…. God thank you for making the stars for me…. God help me not to have scary dreams. I want to dream about you tonight…. God, help Anna to feel better ’cause her throat is very very sore…. Jesus, do you have a kid’s table in your house?… Jesus, I thought the lights would be off forever today.  Thank you for fixing them…. And thank you for digitars (guitars).”

Lately she will stop me in the middle of the day and say.  I want to pray.  Can we pray right now?  And we do.  I stop whatever it is and pray with her.  She just has some things she wants to tell her Father.  Her simple faith takes my breath away.

So I am finding it easier to pray these days.  God has sent me a five year old to show me how.

“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3-4 NASB)