As a parent I spend a lot of time questioning things. Am I preparing my children well? Am I pushing too hard? Too little? Am I annoying with all my advice and instructions? Do I teach then enough? Am I doing enough? Doing too much? Am i focusing on the right things? Am I going too far “protecting” them? I could go on.
I’ve been coming back to the prodigal son story Jesus told. To recap, the younger son takes his inheritance, runs far away, and squanders it all on sinful living. BUT in his suffering he realizes how wrong he was; how empty this life is; his eyes are opened. He is deeply sorrowful and repentant. His only hope is to return home as a lower-class servant for minimal provisions to get out of the pit he has plummeted himself in. His father welcomes him home. His forgiveness leads to restoration. And this is beautiful, but it isn’t the end of the story. There is an older brother at home. He stayed, worked, obeyed, did all the things he was “supposed” to do. And he is bitter, refusing to join in at the party, sulking in his self-righteous, that’s-not-fair, entitlement mentality. He never experienced the full joy of his father and his home. It is drudgery and just going through the motions.
Sometimes — often times — it is living through our mistakes or suffering or pain or intense trials that bring us home to God. Sometimes suffering births salvation. Certainly not the things we are praying for our kids/loved ones...at least not me. Because there are still consequences to actions and mistakes even while God is able to use it all for His good. But eternal consequences are even more severe.
The older brother at home was just as far from God all along. Staying out of trouble and going through religious motions don’t necessarily draw one to God. Instead he grew more bitter and further from God as he relied on his own works. Though on the outside it looked like he was the ideal obedient stable child, on the inside his heart was hardening and rebelling against God.
As parents we can provide a foundation of truth. We can plant seeds. We can gather the kindling around their hearts. But at some point they have to make their faith their own, and often this path is a thorny one. Sometimes it is only desperate measures that open our eyes to the sin pit we are in. The doing-okay-just-getting-by us often can’t see it.
As parents (and even friends, relatives, children) we share our faith and model it and pray...and surrender. Because the Holy Spirit lights the fire, not us. His timing is perfect. And prayerfully our children, friends, loved ones say yes to His invitation.
I’m reminded to pray for the outcome...the restoration and true desire to follow God. Not what I’m tempted to pray for in safety, security, and an outward appearance of obedience and “good” behavior, where the heart might be simmering with bitterness, entitlement, pride over good works, self-preservation — things of the world over love and gratitude and surrender and relationship.
The pain often has purpose. The journey is riddled with wise instruction and deeper root building. The end result of surrender is the victory — whatever it takes — not the easy road of life that leads nowhere but death.
So, we pray protection on the journey. We plant the seeds the best we know how — God will use it; God works, not us. And we trust that God is good and God is in control.