The flip side of our reality as prodigal children.
It’s been a long summer (most recent personal updates at bottom) and next week SuperHusband and I will have one of those moments of reckoning in our life as parents. All on the same day:
The youngest starts her first round of college classes as a dual enrollment high school student. She’s a smart kid and I’m sure she’ll do great.
The recent high school grad drives herself a day away to move into her dorms. It’s not realistic for any of us to go with her, and this will be her first big road trip on her own. Fortunately she’s the one who wanted to drive cross-country this summer; after that experience, a couple states over doesn’t seem so daunting anymore.
The next up the chain temporarily steps away from her first for-serious job in her future profession in order to head back for another year of school. “Goal oriented” doesn’t even begin to describe this child. She’s also beginning the process of making tentative plans for marriage and family life, if all goes as hoped.
Our eldest, meanwhile, gets lucky the house is emptying for the semester so that we can shift everyone around and lend him some bedroom and office space during the gap between the end of his apartment’s lease and him buying his first home.
In sum: We’re parents of young adults now. Which is precisely where the prodigal father found himself, alas with a lot more turbulence than the very peaceful transition my husband and I have been blessed with so far.
Prodigal in the context of the parable means spending wastefully and excessively, but it’s connected to the idea of doing something prodigiously. That is to say, doing the thing on a massive and lavish scale — perhaps even unnaturally so.
Thus we have not just a prodigal son, the boy in the story who goes out and squanders his inheritance on self-indulgences, but we have a prodigal father: The man who handed over half his wealth to someone we old people look down on as a mere kid!
—> And note well, we old folks aren’t completely wrong when we observe that the fresh young things lack the wisdom that comes from hard-earned experience, and therefore might could use a little guidance from their elders.
So the father? He was kinda nuts.
But also: The prodigal father is a stand-in for God the Father.
My husband and I have always pursued a parenting strategy of giving our kids real responsibility. When I say real responsibility I don’t mean chores (though they get their share of those, too), because as you’ll see, most chores are too essential to completely hand off 100% responsibility to a child. Real responsibility is when something — it doesn’t matter what it is — entirely depends on you.
So for example, early in elementary school our kids were given complete responsibility for planning their birthday parties. The parents offered a modest party budget, but either you the child organize the event, set a date, invite the friends, acquire the goods (parents will drive you to the store), and host the party . . . or else you don’t. Up to you.
It wasn’t a huge responsibility. The only real risk was that if you didn’t do what you needed to do you simply wouldn’t have a party. But it was real. Either you the birthday child came through on your responsibility or else the thing simply didn’t happen.
(Note well here: There was no party deadline. If the child never got around to hosting a celebration, it truly was the child’s decision. I have no qualms whatsoever about letting a child host a party six months after the date it commemorates. It’s your party. You’re the one in charge. You decide.)
So here we are, a lot of years of parenting later, and our kids have more and more true responsibility. Now the stakes are getting very serious, as I was reminded last night looking at a house my twenty-something son has sole decision-making power over whether to buy. It’s his savings, his future liability, his future home. It’s not my job anymore to make decisions for him on how he should spend his earnings.
But y’all? This letting-go and leveling-up has nothing on the prodigal father.
My husband and I are not, repeat NOT, handing out quarters of our wealth to each of the kids to do with as they please. That retirement savings? Yeah, we’re gonna be managing that one.
God the Father is not like us.
God the Father does hand us our heavenly inheritance. He does hand us responsibility for the Kingdom. Furthermore, we’re not just given free will to accept or reject the gift of grace for our own souls . . . we’re also given a real expectation that we will do our portion to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven.
He does this even though He knows we’re too immature to fully handle the responsibility.
It begins to look suspiciously like we each need to experience the reality of responsibility. It’s as if we can’t become co-heirs to the Kingdom unless we start learning now, through trial and error and serious effort, how to manage our inheritance. It is as if we can’t fully come to know the work of the Father unless we really, truly put our hands to that work ourselves.
And for the work to be real, and not just some kind of practice exercise, there must be stakes involved. There must be real responsibility. Real risk of failure — but also real possibilities of genuine success.
So. College. Marriage. Houses. Here’s the neat thing about handing over responsibility to your young-adult children: If they know you truly will leave them to manage it on their own? They come asking for advice when they’re ready for it. Hence my husband and I looking at foundations and crawlspaces and circuit-boxes last night.
God the Father is the same way. He gives us the real responsibility, but He’s also available anytime to lend a hand when we realize we’re in over our heads.
Okay now for the promised miscellaneous updates, especially for those of you wondering about the recent radio silence:
I had to leave Ohio earlier than planned due to a little more Covid than hoped. I did not catch the thing, and my friends’ children who did have it are all doing just fine.
Good thing I drove home early, because that evening my youngest came down with a wicked case of the flu, and though she is fine now other than a slight lingering cough, the first few nights were dicey.
Thanks to taking all the airborne precautions, I only ended up with a very, very mild course of that wretched plague, even though I was doing hands-on tending to the patient and I always catch everything.
I’m better now, other than the inevitable crushing fatigue that I get after this kind of stuff. So yeah, life pretty much fell apart there for a couple weeks.
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