- Tabitha Caplinger
For The People With A Prodigal
I was reading the story of the prodigal son recently. It's a story I am familiar with. I've heard it hundreds of times in church throughout my life. Some things struck me this time though. Now, prepare yourself for some major conjecture on my part, I am not trying to read into Scripture what isn't there, but there were things I found curious.
The father (and brother for that matter) didn't go check up on the younger son. He didn't send him more money or bail him out of his circumstances. He didn't rescue him. Now, the Bible doesn't tell us that the father even knew what the son was doing, or that he had run out of money and was living with pigs. Perhaps he didn't know. We do know this father loved his son though, so wouldn't he have tried to check? Wouldn't you? And if you did know that your kid was living with pigs wouldn't you help them? (I told you there would be conjecture on my part here.)
To be fair, times were different. The father in this story couldn't pick up his smartphone and just text his son. He couldn't google him. But I think the fact that the father didn't make the effort to rescue his son from his own choices is an important thing to note.
I'm going to make this clear before I move on so there is no confusion. I think we should reach out to help people when we can, even if it makes us uncomfortable. But I also think there is a big difference between helping someone and enabling negative behavior. Sometimes the best help we can give a person is letting them come to the end of their rope because that is where they will find Jesus.
"You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule." Matthew 5:3 MSG
So what's my point in all this? We all deal with prodigals. As believers, we will have people in our lives, people we love, who we want to come to have relationship with Jesus and they will wander(or stay) far off. Maybe it'll be your child, your sibling, a friend. There will be someone.
I was praying for one such person in my life recently and I felt like God dropped this little nugget into my heart...The hardest thing to come to terms with is that someone you love may simply not want Jesus.
You can't want it for them.
You can't force it on them.
That is the beauty of God and His love. We have choice in it. Even if it means choosing to reject it.
It is heartbreaking and by no means should we stop praying and loving and doing our best to show someone who Jesus is. I am not suggesting we simply give up on someone, I am saying we need to have the right perspective on our part and God's. (Spoiler alert: God does the saving, not us.)
We can't, or at least shouldn't, blame God because someone doesn't want Him. But we do. We think God isn't showing up. We shouldn't be mad at prayers we think are unanswered when it's not God who isn't responding. But we do. We assume because their situation isn't changing God must not be listening to us or that He isn't doing anything.
After all, in this parable the father isn't us, it's God, and His love for the prodigal never ceases, but He is patient and waits, even longs for them to come to Him because love can't be forced. (It's also important to note that God isn't about enabling our bad behavior either. He isn't in the business of bailing us out or making us comfortable. One of my fave quotes, that I think is by Andy Stanley is, "you can't pray your way out of situations you behaved your way into." I think God will help us through the consequences of our choices but He usually won't remove them. That isn't love because it doesn't help us mature. Fixing everything for our kids makes spoiled brats. God knows this. He also knows that it's our choice to accept His help. Ok, moving on...)
The father in this story had no doubt raised both of his children the same way. One stayed and one wandered. I am sure there was pain and frustration in that. But it wasn't about the father, it was about the sons. In the end each individual is responsible for their choice. That is God's divine design. My job is to share His story and show His love. I can do no more.
I have two beautiful daughters who I am trying to raise to be godly women. I try to be an example for them. We talk about Jesus. We go to church. We pray and read our Bibles and talk about our choices. I can do all of this and one of them could still choose to grow up and not want Jesus. It would be heartbreaking for me, but it would be their choice. It has to be their choice. I want it to be their choice because I want their relationships with Jesus to be authentic and genuine, not just a byproduct of having pastor parents. I don't want to raise Christian robots but girls who are deeply in love with Jesus. That's risky.
We can't walk in fear. I can't be afraid of failing. Fear will usually create the result we were afraid of to begin with. I also can't second guess everything I do (or did). "Well, if I had just done this differently, or if I had said this and not that, if, if, if... if I (you fill in the blank) they would have chosen differently." That probably isn't true and all serves no purpose in my life or their's. I try to be the mother God wants me to be, I am far from perfect at it, but God is bigger than me. He fills in all my gaps. He fills in yours too.
See, we have a responsibility to people and the Gospel but we are not responsible for them. Their choices are their own. They have to want relationship with Him. We can't make excuses for why they don't, because when they do want it, really want it, they will start seeking and God will be found. His Holy Spirit is more than able to reveal and guide and teach. God is bigger. He can speak. He is speaking. But the choice is theirs.
I don't know who your prodigal is, your child, or sister, or friend. I'm sure you look at moments in your relationship with them and have regret or fear that you could have done more. Stop it. Right or wrong you can't go back, only forward. Right or wrong the choice would still be and still is their's. Right or wrong God is the one who draws all men unto Him, you just get to help a little.
Let the Holy Spirit do what only He can.
Let the rest go because it isn't for you to hold anyway.
PS: Don't forget He is bigger and can do it without you, so your imperfections in the relationship can be superseded by His perfect love and grace. So forgive yourself for things you might have messed up and stop worrying about the things you didn't do. God loves the prodigal in your life more than you do. He won't let your shortcomings stop His Holy Spirit from reaching them. Give yourself a break. It's okay to let go and let God. He is quite trustworthy.
PPS: Sorry that this was all a huge ramble and feels a little like a hot mess. :)