Please Do Not Ask About My Child
by Carole Barnier
You run into an old friend at church that 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 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.
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. There seems to be this pervasive belief that there’s a formula, or an algorithm to parenting; the short version is, “Perfect Parenting Results in Perfect Children.”
But I’m here to tell you that it isn’t always so. . .that sometimes good parents can still have children who make very bad choices.
Still not convinced? Okay, then consider this. If perfect parenting is a guarantee of perfect children, then Adam and Eve should have been flawless. Did they not have THE perfect parent? What’s more, they lived pre-fall. There wasn’t even sin in the world. And yet, with all this going for them, these two made perhaps the most severe of mistakes, one for which we’ve all been paying a terrible price ever since. So if God, as the perfect father, truly—a perfect father, can have children who in spite of wonderful parenting, still make sinful, even catastrophic choices, what makes you think your parenting can do better?
It all comes down to influence versus control. We, as parents, are expected to have influence over our children. No doubt. Indeed, it’s our job to do our very best to provide circumstances that encourage our children to the goodness that is God. But influence is not the same thing as control. In the end, the truth we must grapple with is that we cannot take our children to God. We cannot save them. We can powerfully influence their exposure to the things of God. But the final action of actually surrendering to God must come from the child themselves. We have influence, but not control.
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. And they will sit in that pew, believing that they are the only ones. But you know better, don’t you.
You know what?–This person needs to hear truth from you.
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 area?
And what do we do while we wait for our prodigals? What did the father in the Biblical account do?
This father faced the heartbreak of being asked to share what shouldn’t have been mentioned till after his death—the younger son’s inheritance. We have no record of the father making a scene, or pleading or even being angry. Other than giving the young man what he asked for, the Bible is silent on what he did in response.
But we know that once the son left, Dad didn’t fall apart. Life went on. He ran a business. He prospered. How do we know this? Because there was a fatted calf around the place. There was a place itself—lands and goods, such that the oldest son complained that he’d never even had a party with the father’s wealth. And the father gestures toward all that he owns and says, “Everything I have has always been yours.” Clearly, the father had continued in the business of life, and evidently, to some degree of success.
The father seemed to be calm and even-tempered, exhibiting an easy leadership presence over his family. He doesn’t seem to be the sort who comes unglued, by even painful family tensions. But when do we see him drop all propriety and flat out run? When he sees his son . . . the son who was lost who has now come home.
I know there are painful struggles when there’s a prodigal in your home. But take heart in the knowledge that when your child reaches a point where they
stop . . .decide it’s time to choose truth . . .and turn toward God . . .they’ll see the King of Universe running toward them, legs moving, arms raised, fabric flying, and a voice calling out loud and clear. . .“He’s Home.”
Carol Barnier will be a CHOIS Keynote speaker this June. Many of the ideas in this article appear in her newest book, “Engaging Today’s Prodigal”. Join Carol’s free online coaching community for parents with highly distractible kids at www.sizzlebop.com or check out www. carolbarnier.com.