All of us with grown children, regardless of who we are, have had some type of family challenges. I can remember vividly the hopes and dreams I held for each one of my children. I held tight to visions that they would achieve greatness in their lives. Like most parents, I love my children unconditionally and would literally lay down my life for any of them. The hardest thing for me to grasp, however, was the fact that how I expressed that love during the challenges may very well help determine the outcome.
Although I never participated in any type of illegal drug activity as a child, one of my greatest family challenges has been the unfortunate circumstance of confronting addiction issues with several loved ones. One I found dead at the age of 33 from a methadone overdose. Another is still struggling with overcoming the selfish, life stealing grip of drug addiction. Over the years, I have read and practiced about every principle, step and strategy one could imagine to help them break the habit. I have prayed countless hours, sought wise counsel, experienced the dismal results from rehab centers and watched helplessly as this disease literally sucked the very life out of those within its reach. If you or someone you know has been trapped in this insanity circle, perhaps you can relate.
We all remember the story of the prodigal son. Two sons, one loving and mindful, obedient of his father’s word. The other, rebellious, seeking joy and life on his own terms. The prodigal son was a story many of us were taught to see the power of unconditional love, forgiveness, acceptance and grace. After decades of experiencing the pain of rebelliousness in others, I have found some hidden principles in this story I would like to share that may help reshape your thinking. They certainly did mine. Althought they may not solve all of life’s problems, they can certainly assist by giving the peace of mind that comes from knowing you are doing all you possibly can.
Hidden Principles of the Prodigal Son:
1. The father let him go
When the rebellious son decided to leave home, the father didn’t stop him. He let him go and even allowed him to take his inheritance. The Bible says he was given his inheritance money but it doesn’t say his wrong ways were rewarded time and time again. It was a one-time deal. Take it now or take it later. No more coming back to the fountain of handouts. Letting go is the first step toward personal freedom for yourself. It isn’t easy but holding on and expecting different results is actually harder on both parties in the long run.
2. The father didn’t chase him
I am sure the father prayed for his son endlessly, as any good parent would, but when he left, his father didn’t chase him. He didn’t go looking for him or attempt to protect him. He accepted his son’s choice to leave and allowed him the freedom to “find himself.” Parenting is difficult. We want to make things right, guide them and show them the way. We want them to have a life better than ours. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes we just have to turn loose and realize that chasing only makes the rebellious run faster.
3. The father allowed him to fall
The Bible says the prodigal son squandered all of his money and ended up literally starving from hunger. After hiring prostitutes, partying, and “enjoying life” he finally came to his senses and realized it would be better to work for his dad and have food than to eat pig slop. Had his father not allowed this and intervened, the probability is he would have enabled his son to continue his lifestyle into total destruction. How many of us would allow our children to fall that far? I sure haven’t. I’ll also admit that my way didn’t work. Truth is, the rebellious have to fall, often multiple times, before deciding that hitting bottom is too painful. Softening a fall only enables and prolongs the inevitable.
4. The father accepted him back with conditions
When the father saw the prodigal son coming home, he accepted him with open arms, forgave him and gave him clothing, food and a servant’s job. His other son was upset that his father would give a party and harvest the fatten pig for his rebellious brother. The father assured his loyal son that he was loved and had everything he owned. His present joy was found in the fact that his prodigal son was lost and now he was found. He knew that his lost son had come to his senses. Even then, however, he did not enable him with more handouts and money. That was done before he left. No more free rides. He was forgiven but his rebellious decisions had consequences.
I have often said that choices determine circumstances while decisions determine our destiny. A heartfelt decision should remove a choice in a given area. If your decision is to say no to drugs, there should be no choice. If you make a macro decision concerning who you will marry, your spiritual beliefs or how you will bring up your children, other choices should be removed. The hidden principles of the prodigal son reveal that unconditional love and forgiveness aren’t synonymous with naivety. As a firm believer in second chances, the fruit of our actions must make the statement that the change or commitment is real. Perhaps the prodigal son earned his way up the servant ladder to a better job. Maybe he practiced better habits and created a new future. We don’t know the outcome but we do know the possibilities. People can change if they want to and are willing to make the necessary sacrifices to do so.
If you are struggling with a rebellious loved one, remember that you aren’t God. You can’t change them. Only He can heal and change those wanting help. If they wish to leave, let them go. If they run, don’t chase them. If they are so steadfast on falling, allow them to fall. And, if they come to their senses, don’t enable as before. Simply forgive, love unconditionally and accept them back.
Don’t blame yourself for someone else’s decisions. We are only responsible for our own actions. Others must take ownership for their own lives. The next time you are confronted with a rebellious friend or loved one, remember these hidden secrets. They may very well get you past the guilt and on to expressing love in a more helpful, life changing way.
Remember, it’s not how you start in life that matters, it’s how you finish. Be strong so you can help those you love to finish strong.