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Friday, October 29, 2004

The Heart of the Prodigal's Father

Recently, I blogged about #1 Daughter's rebellion. Since her "declaration of double independence," I have had to learn how to love her in a vulnerable, transparent and unconditional manner. I had often spoken, preached and talked about God's unconditional love in church, in bible study groups, with my friends and family and in scholarly and not so scholarly discussions, but it was not until I was challenged to practice it in my own relationships over the past few years that I learned what it truly meant.

An illustration of the lesson can be found in the Parable of the Prodigal's Son. In that poignant story, the Father showed unconditional love in very real ways. When the son asked for his half of the inheritance, the Father did not put a condition to his gift. He gave him his fortune knowing that he was too immature to handle the wealth. He let him go, while all the time offering his love, support and security should the son ever changed his mind.

What I marvel about the Father is that he went along with the son's crazy suggestion even though he practically knew what the outcome was going to be: "Hey Old Fella, you're gonna kick the bucket one day, so why don't I take what I will get then - half the estate, and split now?" The son wanted out of the relationship, out of the responsibility and out of the . Yet the Father did not quarrel with him, did not try to hold him to ransom ("If you do such and such, then you get this or that") nor did the Father try to change his mind. He didn't lay down the law: "As long as you are under my house you live by my rules. If you want a penny of my estate, you're gonna have to earn it." None of that rhetoric. None of the - I labored so hard to bring you up right and this is how you're gonna repay your old man? No melodrama. "So he divided his property between them" (Luke 15:12).

When the son finally came to his senses, after squandering every penny, and returned home, we find that the Father is only concerned for one thing: "My son, who was dead, is now alive. He was lost, now he is home." So, he gave him the signet ring - a sign of highest, unreserved recognition, he threw a party to welcome him - a celebration of unbridled reconciliation, and he put his best robes on him - an act of undeniable restoration.

Through it all the Father trusted. Trust what? Trusted that he has brought his sons aright. Trusted that his duty as a father is to show the Heavenly Father's heart to his children. Trusted that He is to model the Heavenly Father. For transformation does not happen with coercion. Nor does it happen with rules, nor regulation. It only happens with life, love and compassion. Slowly, but painfully, I have to learn this hard lesson. All I can do is pray for transformation, first of my own heart and life, and then as I learn to live by the Spirit of God, to allow that transformation to permeate the rest of my family.

When I first encountered my daughter's open rebellion, my first instinct was to put my foot down and lay down the law. As I mentioned before, my wise pastor counseled, "Let her go so that she can come back sooner than much later." It was the hardest lesson to learn. But I listened and asked God for strength and wisdom. What transpired in the ensuing six or so months could be described as nearly "hell on earth" for me. For I thought I was a good, loving, caring, Christian father who spent time with his kids, and who prayed for them and who loved the Lord. Then why is it that my children are rebelling?

I remember all those times that I had been judgmental of other people's teenaged kids. They must have been too permissive. Or, they must have been too harsh. They don't know and teach God's word to their children. And so on. I especially was critical of pastors whose kids rebelled. They shall be known for their fruit. Now it was my turn. Although the past few years, I have had to learn hard lessons about what it means to be a follower of Christ, and have had been humbled in more ways than one, and I was no longer as judgmental as before, yet this lesson has to come home to me in more intimate ways.

Not only did #1 Daughter rebelled, but it was followed very quickly by #2 Daughter. I was going berserk! What is happening, Lord? I wanted to go to bed and sleep it off as if it was a nightmare. My own children! Memories of their childhood flood through my minds. Attending conferences together. Singing and dancing to praise songs. Studying the word. Praying. Serving. All those fun times. Where are they now? Hasn't it done anything?
Wasn't there any impact? What is going on? I wanted to take things in my own way. I wanted to steamroll the life transformation. I wanted to decree the "Thou shalts... " and expect unquestioning obedience and immediate life-change.

However, it was not to be. I had to learn to love, to model, to forgive and to be transformed from the inside out. The fish rots from the head first. So as the head of the family, I took personal responsibility to let the Spirit work in my life. It was a hard, long struggle. Looking back, I don't know how or when it happened, but eventually both daughters became as close with their dad as ever. They know my love, my acceptance and my understanding and support. They come to church when I ask them to. They still question, but they don't rebel anymore. They now even pray with me and their mom.

It may be a long time before they start to confess and express matured faith in their Lord and mine. That part of it, I leave to the work of the Holy Spirit. I just need to take care of my own heart to ensure that He has it all. When that day comes, I will have the ring, the robe and the party ready. Even if I won't, I know He will.