When the Family is Anything but Harmonious!
I was in Walmart years ago. Standing in the toy aisle looking for a present for my godson, I overheard a child start to cry in the next aisle. The mother said, “Darling, you can’t have everything you want all the time. It’s too near Christmas, and you can’t get that toy, cause you don’t know if Santa already made one of those for you.” There was more crying, and then a tantrum. The boy kicked and screamed. You could hear him ten aisles away. The mother ignored his fuming and kept going. As she passed me by, I cast her an understanding glimpse of sympathy. She understood. Then, she said under her breath, “All this and he’s already getting it for Christmas.” Sometimes, children want their way and are going to make it bad on mom or dad no matter what they do.
Actually, its not just children that carry on, have tantrums, or kick and scream when they don’t get their way. Adults do it too. Yes, they do. We may not fall apart in Walmart because we didn’t get a toy we want, but I’ve seen couples fight or pout or yell when one couldn’t get something. In some ways, we are wrapped up in our selfish world. We hurt others and don’t realize it. Maybe, we become self-centered and long for our own way. Sometimes, the only thing you can do as a parent or spouse when a child or spouse is acting childish or selfish is to be the big three… with love, be firm, be fair, and be there.
To understand how to be firm, be fair, and be there, we need to look at Jesus' parable of the prodigal son. "Prodigal son", simply means lost son, so this parable is about a lost son and the Father who looks out for him. The story begins in Luke 15 with Jesus talking about a man and his two sons. In the parable, one son decides he’s going to move out. He’s had it with dad. He’s taking his inheritance and leaving. We are never told why the son is leaving. Maybe he thinks he’s smarter than dad. Maybe he feels he’s all grown up and doesn’t need his parents. Maybe he figures he’s smarter and can do better on his own. Any way you look at it, the son doesn’t want to stay home. He wants out. The father, being firm, probably didn’t let his son get by with things at home, so the son wants to leave. The father gives his son the inheritance. You can’t fault dad. He’s provided for his son. He’s been there for his son, saving up money. The son doesn’t care. He just wants his due.
Parents, there are times you can’t stop a kid from making a bad choice, bad decision, or doing the wrong thing. You can raise them right, teach them all the values in the world, and as a child grows up, he or she can still disappoint you or hurt you or blame you for something. Every talk show on TV likes to put the blame on the parents for all the child's problems. Seeing a 40 year old blame his parents for a ten year drug habit is nonsense. Yes, you may not have had the best parents, but your parents didn’t force the drug up your nose or into your veins. Most people have nobody to blame but themselves for the mistakes they make in life, but they sure do like to find someone to blame. Its easy to blame mom and dad.
In this parable of Jesus, you can’t blame the dad for anything. He did his part. He was firm. He was fair. Still, his son leaves home. Dad couldn’t tell him, “you aren’t ready.” There are times you can’t tell a spouse or a child something. They’ve tuned you out. They aren’t listening, even to the best advice. You can only watch as they screw up their life. And that’s just what the son does. He takes his money and begins to party. As Sinbad says, “It’s party all the time, party all the time!” The young man has more than enough, but the scripture says he “squandered his property in dissolute living"(Luke 15:13). Another version of the Bible says it differently: He blew his money on “wild living”. OK, maybe he drank too much, used drugs, cavorted with people. He’s having fun for once in his life, right? Right. And he’s messing his life up but good, right? Right.
A famine hit the country and the young man ran out of money. He was so hungry, he took a job feeding pigs. Now, you might be thinking, "Fine, so he’s got to feed pigs…. many farmers do that." But you don’t understand…. Jews don’t eat pork, according to Jewish Law. They do not associate with pigs. The job was seen as offensive to a Jew. The man had to be desperate. In fact, he was in such dire straits that we are told in the scripture that he started to eat the pig’s food. (Luke 15:16) Now, there’s a picture for you. Do you know what pigs eat? It's often called slop for a reason. You want to eat slop? Well, I hate to say it, this boy has hit rock bottom.
People can mess up life so badly. They make a bad choice, then make another bad choice to cover it up, and a third bad choice to get by. In short time, they are living a lie. I’ve seen literally hundreds who were addicted to drugs and alcohol hit the bottom. Rather than doing what was right, rather than seeking help, they just kept sinking lower and lower. People are so prideful. They can’t admit they are wrong. Some won’t listen to the doctor. Some won’t dare come in for treatment, too embarrassing, so they continue the downward spiral. It can take hitting rock bottom before people open their eyes and see, before people wake up. With the son in the parable far from home, there’s nothing his family or his father can do for him.
Well, the son had enough of the pig pits and pig food. The scripture says “he came to himself” (Luke 15:17). That’s what it takes. You may sow those wild oats, but one day you may realize all the partying and fooling around isn’t what it's all cracked up to be. When you have drunk yourself to a stupor, lost your home to gambling, been sick of living a lie, or making the same mistake over and over, you might be smart enough to “come to yourself.” Some don’t ever come to that point and its horrible to watch, but this young man did come to himself. He said, “I am dying of hunger. I will go to my father and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am not longer worthy to be called your son,” (Luke 15:18). The young man just hoped to be hired back as a worker on the farm. He left for home.
The father saw him a long way off. And what did the father do? He shouted at him, “I told you so. I’m right and you are wrong and I told you not to leave!” NO! NO! NO! That’s not what the father does. Even though I know its very tempting for parents to mess up by always pointing out the child’s failures, saying “I told you so,” that’s not what the father does here. He doesn’t sit down and give the boy a long lecture. He doesn’t ignore him and refuse the son a home. He runs to meet the young man. The boy tells his father about how he sinned, how he is unworthy as a son. Again, the father doesn’t give a long speech, a tirade, no “I Told you so”. Instead, the father said to his slaves to get nice clothes, put a ring on his finger, and prepare to celebrate. He said, "My son who was lost is found. My son who was dead is now alive again," (Luke 15:24). All it took is a son's repentance and a father's love.
This parable sounds like a classic love story, but the story isn’t over. There are more family issues involved. As soon as the prodigal son is welcomed back after all his mistakes, jealousy breaks out between the father's sons. The older son who had never blown his money doesn’t like the attention paid to his brother. How often I’ve seen this in families… jealousy, envy, anger, resentment. The one son thinks he’s better than the other son. The good old boy thinks he deserves more than the black sheep of the family. Sometimes, problems arise in the family because a parent pits children against each other saying, “Why can’t you get good grades like Johnny?” A parent may favor one child over another and its obvious, and this causes jealousy among the those in the family. Jealousy is simply self-centered-ness by a person who thinks he or she is right about something. What right does the older son have to think he’s better than his brother? The father tries to teach his older son what is happening. I’m not sure he heard it.
In the end, I want you to notice the father in this story. Is he Firm, fair, and there with love? Yes. He tries to teach both sons. He tries to be fair about the inheritance and about the jealousy in the family. And certainly the father is there. He goes out to the road running after his lost son.
So, how about in your family? When problems come, are you firm, or do you waver? Do you set up roles or chores in the family and then fail to keep them or fail to hold everyone accountable? You can’t be fair without being firm.
How fair are you? Do you favor one child over another? Do you take advantage of a child? Do you look out for your family? When you see a fight, do you settle it fairly?
Finally, are you there for your child. I knew one father who never saw one of his kid’s baseball games until he entered the major leagues. The father didn’t respect his son or his achievements. Are you there for your family? Do you drop off the kids at day care but don’t bother to pick them up for twelve hours every day and some weekends because you are too busy? Do your children know what is like to never have parents welcoming them home or asking them about their day? Are you there for your family? Does your career mean more than your family? Are you there in body but your mind is far away?
In this story of our Bible, there are family problems like abandonment, fighting, jealousy, envy, anger at parents, and terrible mistakes. There are sins committed and infighting. Throughout, the loving father in the parable is firm, is fair, and is there. How well do you compare to this father of whom Jesus spoke? How well do you deal with family problems? God wants peace and love in your home. God wants families to be there for each other. God hopes for families to be understanding and loving. Do you really understand what this scripture is saying to you today? Are you like the father? Do you feel like the lost son who messed up badly? Do you think you are better than others? How is God speaking to you and your family in this moment?