The first Father’s Day gift I ever gave Doug was a significantly large canvas print of Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son.” He cried; he doesn’t cry very often.
Henri Nouwen’s book by the same title had become a treasured journey for both of us in our new relationship. Henri has a gift for holding our hands and welcoming us home. Doug and I were both on our journey “home.”
Home is where we’re always:
Home is where we always belong.
And running away happens hundreds of times a day – even inside the walls of all of our homes.
Running away happens every time we don’t feel feel:
Running away happens when we feel like we don’t belong.
Right now is a good time to wonder ”…wait a minute, I thought the prodigal son ran away because he was a selfish rebel? He chose to leave! The story doesn’t tell us his dad had done anything to make him feel unloved or unwelcome.”
Yes. The prodigal son chose to run away. And I bet it wasn’t the first time. Especially living with his elder brother; we might call him, the “Pharisee.”
I imagine those two boys didn’t get along very well – way before the running away part of the story we know. I bet they argued a great deal because I bet they triggered each other in HUGE ways. One of them often wearing “the good boy” mask, and one of them often dressed as “the black sheep of the family”…the arguments had to be painful.
If we look closely at the story, the “Pharisee” had run away long before his brother grabbed his own part of the inheritance and left town. How do we know?
Because he wasn’t experiencing the love of his father – living under the same roof.
He wasn’t experiencing his father’s love perhaps because in his own mind, he was “good” – all on his own. Any needs or struggles he had, he hid – not wanting to put a dent in his perfect record. His motto was “earn and deserve” – and he was good at it.
Denying his own needs and hiding his struggles was his way of running away.
Just like his brother.
When we hide from our needs and struggles, we hide from love, too.
It happens every day in us – and in our children.
Our shame stories get triggered and we run. We run to our room. We run to a screen. We run to work, or to work out. We run to the mall. We run to the pantry. We run at each other with fists full of blame.
Our children’s shame stories get triggered and they run, too. They run to their room. They run to a screen. They run to get a toy they can throw. They run to the file marked, “Unacceptable Language.” They run to the file full of, “Insults & Rude Remarks.”
We may run to find our “Victim” mask. We may run to grab our “Shame Thrower.”
When our own “good enough” masks don’t work – and when the anger meter goes off while we’re wearing the “black sheep” costume…we all run.
As a parent, what can we learn from the Father?
Can we offer our children a way Home – so they can come out of hiding and experience our love?
Yes. This is the hope for our families. And we can offer this unconditional love to our children. But only if we have returned Home – to our Father – ourselves.
I can’t extinguish your shame story – if it has ignited mine. If your behavior triggers me, I’ve forgotten who I am. I’ve forgotten “I am the beloved” and your behavior has invited me to run.
As a parent, we can give our children a valuable inheritance when we give them a true identity. We can’t give them what we don’t have.
When my child’s behavior triggers my shame story – I am trusting their “goodness” to establish my well being. I know this is true because their “badness” is disrupting my well being.
Trusting my true identity as a child of God, Christ’s goodness establishes my well-being; His presence in me offers me a new story – in place of my shame story. His strength in me offers me new ways of responding.
What would it look like to live out of this new story? when my child is “running away?”
A few – or a combination – of these ideas can be helpful:
- I start from a place of personal peace. Nothing is on trial here. I may be the brunt and it is already messy, but it’s really not about me. I know who I am and my shame story is not a part of this mess.
- I offer to serve – not just get past him, or demean her. This may be as simple as coming closer instead of walking away – or sending him/her away. “I’m with you.” “I’m for you.”
- I validate. This doesn’t mean I agree with what my child is saying – or how they’re behaving. But I offer this: “It’s ok for you to not be ok.” “What you’re feeling is ok.” “It’s ok for you to be hurting.” “It’s ok for this to not be resolved yet.”
- I affirm. “If I had to do this all over again, I’d still pick you for my oldest son…I’d pick you all over again for my baby girl…” “You’re an incredible gift to this family.”
- I give a way Home. I change the subject. I take “that” off…so it doesn’t feel like her identity – or his label…so it doesn’t feel like mom or dad thinks she’s anything but a delight and wants to be with her…so it doesn’t feel like mom or dad thinks he’s anything by a treasure and wants to be with him. “Let’s go walk the dog.” “Let’s go play catch.” “Let’s go make dinner.” “I want to hear that song you’ve been learning.” “Show me those dance moves, again.” “Let’s go shoot some hoops.”
It costs time. It’s messy. (It may be a beautiful journey to read those ideas again – and see Father God as our own real parent, and see ourselves as the struggling child.)
It’s love. And True Identity. “You’re not a mess.”
“You’re welcome here.”
“The real you – not your shame story – is known here.”
“You’re safe here.”
“You’re loved here.”
“You belong here.”
And love is always unearned. The prodigal son came home, prepared to be a servant – to work to earn what he so desperately needed.
The Father says, “All I have is yours; you’re my child.”
Oh, we struggle with all of this. We confuse grace with enabling or coddling. We want to earn it or deserve it.
I bet no one ever said, “Grace is enabling” or “Grace is coddling” to Jesus on the cross. I bet no one ever said, “I can do that by myself” about His death and resurrection.
Grace is identity – a new nature and a new shame-free story. As parents, we get to remind our children who they really are…and welcome them home, daily, to their shame-free story.
How will we know when it’s having its effect? “Behavior is the echo of belief.” (Graham Cooke)
If behavior modification worked, the cross of Christ was a waste. It’s our beliefs we must wrestle with and modify; the ripples of change will be evident in our own behavior – and in our children’s behavior.
What are our children believing about their identities? Look at their behavior – and then help them remember who they really are.
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