In considering what I might write about for this week’s Messenger, I let my mind float over the ABC congregation, thinking about various families and individuals, asking about each, “What are they experiencing right now that brings them anxiety or concern?” I came up with answers like health issues, financial challenges and big decisions they have to make. But more and more, I settled on a recurring worry many of our families have: their prodigal children.

The familiar parable Jesus told can be read here. It’s the story of a father whose family is pretty comfortable, owning land and having a secure future. He wants to pass all of this on to his two sons. One of them goes along with the program and works hard to maintain the property. The other, however, thinks he knows better. He asks for his share of the estate up front, so that he can spend it in his own way. Of course, he quickly wastes it on “riotous living.” When even harder times come, he’s reduced to working for a farmer feeding gross food to pigs.

In Jesus’ story, the prodigal son comes to his senses and goes crawling home in repentance. It doesn’t always happen that way in our families. Sometimes our rebellious kids just keep drifting farther and farther away from the values and the faith we’ve tried to instill in them. Some even seem to be become quite successful by doing the opposite of what we have taught them to do. One thing’s for sure: they’re never going to think and act exactly the way we dreamed they would. And truthfully, we shouldn’t want them to; they’ve become independent individuals and should be respected for their uniqueness.

I think all parents have a longing to reconnect with their prodigal children. So, what’s the best way to make this happen? Jesus gives us two examples. One is the “good” brother who stayed faithful to the family’s values. He sulked and stewed because all the obedient choices he had made seemed to go unrewarded. He wanted to see his brother suffer for his bad choices. His reaction seems quite natural, so why do I find myself not liking this “good” brother, and why do I feel he’s not really so good, after all?

By contrast, the father in the parable shows unconditional acceptance and love, expressing this in a full embrace, a set of fine clothes and a fancy banquet. Dad, that seems a bit much; don’t you think you should tone it down a little? Remember how he rebelled against you. “I have some vague memories of that, but this is my son, he’s been dead to me, and now he’s alive. He’s been lost to me, and now he’s found. It’s all good! ”

You younger parents whose children are currently testing the boundaries and showing a rebellious streak, don’t panic. Maintain your standards and values, but don’t be too harsh in the way you apply them to your children. Don’t hold the reins so tightly that the only way they can differentiate themselves from you would be to snap them in open rebellion. They are emerging to become unique individuals, not carbon copies of you. If you let the love of the forgiving heavenly Father fill your heart during this critical time, you will enjoy the benefits of this wonderful parent/child relationship for the rest of your life.

— Pastor George Van Alstine