LAUNCHING OUT, PART 1
11 Then Jesus[I] said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with[J] the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father.—Luke 15:11-20a | NRSV
“I wish you were dead, then I could enjoy my life, living it on my own terms.” Some people I know have thought and dared to say when they were teens to one parent or both. I, however, never fixed my mouth to say it–nor did I ever silently wish it. I, to be sure, said and did other things. However, this was a line I never crossed. And, one I never will!
Therefore, I have a hard time wrapping my mind around what motivated the younger son, who has been referred to biblically and traditionally as the prodigal (wasteful) son, to tell his dead he wish that his dad were dead. I know what you are thinking: Nowhere in Luke 15:11-32 do you see those words. I agree with you. The text does not explicitly say that. However, when you understand that in Jewish culture of the first century a respectful and righteous son would never ask for his share of the father’s estate (Verse 12). In Jewish culture, an estate would never be divide up amongst the sons of a family until the death of the patriarch. By asking for his share of the father’s estate while his father yet lived, the younger son was saying, in effect, “I wish you were dead, so I can enjoy my life”.
What’s most amazing and arresting is that the father, who has been dishonored by his son’s request, grants it. The question, however, is: Why? One possible answer might be that the Father grants the request because he simply can’t help but spoil the boy, indulge his every whim. Another possible answer might be that the father does so because he does not want his son to stay if his son wants to go. Maybe? Still another possible might be that the Father knows that every child must assert her/himself sometimes against the very wishes of her/his parents make her/she way into the world. To put it slightly differently, perhaps it’s simply that the Father knows real love does not hold on, but rather let’s go, so that the loved one can grow. I tend to lean towards the latter as the main reason the father granted his son’s request.
In fact, I believe one of the universal tasks of parenthood, irrespective of cultural context, is to prepare their children to be launched into the larger world. At a certain point, parents have to remove the mental, monetary, and material training wheels and let their children ride down the road of life as their children see fit. What makes this very difficult, so I am discovering, is that parents want to protect, guide, and provide for their children as long as possible. Additionally, parents want to help their children sidestep some of their mistakes and steer clear of scenarios which may leave their children stuck (for a season), hurt, and lost. In part, perhaps it’s not merely a matter of habit and heart, but also a matter of how we, as parents, are hardwired genetically. God has programmed parents protect, guide, and provide for their children. However, a moment comes when our children must be encouraged to assert their independence. Otherwise, our children may assert themselves in ways which we may create psycho-emotional scars and distance, emotional and physical.
For the most part, Muriel and I have released our parental grip on our under-
aged children and have extended our hands in respect and trust to our young adult daughters. It’s what we have prepared them for. However, no one prepared me for how painful, different, and pleasurable it would feel–all at the same time. I have to learn to accept them in some ways as my equal. Like their mother and I, they too have the right to dream their respective unique dreams, personal and professional, and the right to march to the beat of a different drum, to step to the music as they hear it, not as we do.
Recently, one moment which made it clear that we were no longer in Kansas was when my daughters, my wife, and I were eating out at a neighborhood resturant. When the waiter asked whether or not we wanted something to drink, I got my usual (Cranberry & ginger ale mixed), Muriel water, and the girls each order alcoholic drinks. They did so quite naturally, without any degree of hesitation or fanfare. I was happy that they were comfortable ordering drinks in our presence, but I was shocked, given that both of them did so in the presence of their mother and me, and I still don’t order drinks in the presence of my parents (although I’m not much of drinker to begin with). That, to be sure, was not so much a wake-up call, but rather a subtle reminder that our relationship has changed–and for the better, I might add.
When and how did you express your independence of your parent’s approval and authority? When and how did your children do so with you? However, how do you live your life, so as to maintain your dependence on God, living under God’s approval and authority?