Saturday, November 14, 2015

What God has taught me...

in parenting a prodigal could fill a book, let alone a blog post. I will try to keep it short, but long-winded writing is an apt descriptor of my style. Ergh.

First, God has taught me that I am a bigger sinner than I think I am. Yes, it has been said that parenting gives us a glimpse of God's love for us, but more than that, parenting gives me a glimpse of the offense of my sin against my Heavenly Father.

Am I the only one who chafes at having done this and that and those things too for the child who then rises up in ungrateful stance and metaphorically spits on my provision? Or to have counseled and advised and warned and pled with the child from a word of wisdom and experience only to have him do exactly the opposite thing? Or to have forgiven a child of certain offense and see him repeatedly return to the grievous thing?

So incredibly offensive, is it not?

And God nods His head in knowing mutuality.

When we could talk about Bill Cosby without cringing, one could credit him with a line from his parenting video where he describes that his mom cursed him with the words, "I hope you have a child just like you!" And then one day he did.

I am reminded of Genesis 3:16, "To the woman he said, 'I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to your children.'"

I understand that the word "childbearing" does not just mean the physical act of labor at birth but has an extensive enough meaning to include child-rearing. And rightly so, I suppose. Because modern medical science has the elixir of an epidural for the physical act of labor, but there is no anesthesiologist who rushes in while you are dealing with an angry teen shouting hurtful words at you to say, "Here, let me ease the pain of those contractions." Contractions of the heart no less painful and often more so than the ones that contorted our faces at 8 centimeters.

Just today I heard Dan Doriani speaking on work and faith. He mentioned that the Genesis 3 curse is on the ground, not on work itself. Meaning, the ground we are to work will give us resistance all our days. Certainly, the work of parenting meets resistance in one form or another all of our days.

Second, I have learned how God's kindness is intended to draw us to repentance, Romans 2:4. This verse was always a bit puzzling to me, particularly as it follows after Romans 1 and Paul's declaration of how men are storing up God's wrath for themselves. But look at its context here:

"You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.
Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
Tied to the first thing I have learned is this second thing--God saved me. And I was not deserving of His salvation at all. Rather I was entirely deserving of His wrath. But His kindness, forbearance, and patience with me, for me, did its work of leading me to repentance. In other words, if God can save a big, old, ugly sinner like me, then I can trust in His kindness, forbeareance, and patience with my prodigal son.

Not only so but the model of God's kindness, forbearance, and patience is mine to follow in how I relate to my son. Showing grace to him is not a get out of jail free card that ignores the necessity of discipline or personal responsibility. Showing grace to him must flow out of the grace that God has first shown me.

So when he sins and sins often, against me or others, my wrath is ineffective. Responding firmly and boldly with truth, with patience, and with thoughtfulness to natural and/or necessary consequences demonstrates a forbearance and kindness intended to draw him to repentance versus a shrieking, hollering, irrationally angry mom slamming things around and making statements that land you in the halls of ridiculous parenting alumnae. (I have certainly exhibited the latter part of that sentence more than I care to admit.)

Third, I have learned to value the smallest increments of relationship and to be grateful for them as a gift from God during this hard period of prodigality. The "it could be worse" is not only true for our own relationship--and there have been periods of utterly worse-ness--but my heart is quite sensitized to the pain I see in other parents grieving for their prodigals. And it could definitely be worse.

As such, I do value the moments of tension free conversation, the opening up of his ideas and thoughts to me without guardedness and hostility, or the exchange of humor and mutual respect. I am grateful for the "more" moments of peace compared to the "less" moments our home as known. I am more keenly aware of how my tone and facial expression can either set up a moment for blessing or doom it before it really begins.

In truth, realizing how much I valued these small things with this son made me aware of how I had taken them for granted with my other sons. Rectifying that relational deficit on my part has enriched my relationships with them.

To sum it up, my son's prodigality has been key to my own sanctification. Full of valleys, yes, but there are also moments on small rises, hilltops, where I see and am grateful for how God is working in me even as I trust Him to work in my son's life. God truly does use our sorrows and griefs for the working out of our good and His glory.

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