Proud of a Prodigal?
Can you be proud of a prodigal?
That depends, doesn’t it? Your son or daughter has made some choices you know you’re not proud of. But what about when they make the right ones?
When you’re the parent of a prodigal you learn to look at life a little differently. Cari and I have a phrase we use frequently. When we’ve made it through 24 hours without a “prodigal incident” and our children have made good choices, one of us inevitably says, “Today was a good day.” Parenting a prodigal makes you grateful for small victories. And sometimes victories that may not seem like much can be large indeed.
Recently our son celebrated his 21st birthday substance-free. That’s an accomplishment for anyone in a culture that practically programs kids to abuse the moment their odometer clicks. But for someone who’s struggled with substance abuse, it’s huge.
We were out to dinner when the waitress discovered it was “his day.” “You should drink!” she urged through a thick Ukrainian accent. Our son just smiled. “I’ve done enough of that in my life already,” he responded. “Besides, I get too crazy when I drink.”
As his Dad, I can’t tell you how much those words meant to me. If you had been living in our home over the years you’d understand. Think of it like this. Imagine watching your son run a big race. You see him stumble and fall out of the blocks while other runners leave him behind. Then somehow (by some kind of miracle), he rises to his feet, shakes off the fall, hits his stride, and breaks the tape.
You’d cherish that moment, wouldn’t you? You’d replay it in your mind again and again. It’s more than just a “that’s my boy!” moment. It’s a fall-to-your-knees-and-thank-God moment you’ll remember as long as you live.
Some months before his birthday I told my son, “When you turn 21, why be like everyone else? Why don’t you do something different, and go without substances?” And he did. He made it a milestone, and I couldn’t be prouder of him for it. Not with the stuffed-shirt, pat-yourself-on-the-back-because-your-kid-made-you-look-good kind of pride, but with the healthy God-given satisfaction that looks on an achievement and lovingly sees that it is “very good” (Genesis 1:31).
Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun” has a moment where a mother defends her love for her prodigal son to his sister who hates him for his mistakes: “Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most; when they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain’t through learning — because that ain’t the time at all. It’s when he’s at his lowest and can’t believe in hisself ’cause the world done whipped him so. When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right child, measure him right. Make sure you done take into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is.”
Your prodigal child may have chosen “hills and valleys” of his own free will. He may still be in a “far country” (Luke 15:13) and have a long way to go. But when he starts to come “to his senses” (Luke 15:17) and turn toward the Father’s house, it is a “very good” day indeed. Every step in the right direction is cause to praise “the tender mercy of our God,” who daily guides “our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).