I have come into contact with several mothers over the past few weeks, each one sharing a story of personal trial or concern over a struggling child- struggles that change lives and alter the very breath that is breathed.
The youth of today are struggling in ways like we’ve never seen before. As a result, the parents of today are struggling in ways that our own parents could not have begun to envision.
My message today is for the parents who are caring and weeping for struggling youth, regardless of what the struggle is. My message is for the parents whose knees are bruised from long nights praying for guidance, help and understanding; the parents who would trade ANYTHING to take the struggles away from the child they love with all that they are. If you are, or you know, a parent in this boat- please send them my hope and my perspective…
Because of my own experiences this year in my own family, I have been intimately aware of the concern, struggles, and heartaches of each of the mothers I have met with this month. As I have tried to offer support and suggestions, I have shared the same story with each of these women- it is a story that you may recognize, or at least a variation of the story, for it has been passed down for many years.
The story begins with a wealthy business owner and his two sons, both sons having spent their youth working and learning at their father’s side. Though the business owner had many employees, he and his sons were actively involved in the daily workings of the company and its growth. Because they worked so closely together, it could easily be assumed that the father intended that one day his sons would take over the family business and would feed and clothe their own families with the abundance and wealth that the successful father had accumulated through the years. After working by his side for many years, the sons would have enough knowledge and experience to manage the bounteous inheritance that they would receive and, in turn, one day pass it on to their own children. The father was well respected in the community and admired by his employees as a fair and an honest man; he led and inspired many.
With careful planning and a well thought out presentation, one of the sons comes to his father and pleas for the opportunity to leave his father’s business and venture out on his own. In order to do this and make his own way in the world, the son requests his portion of the inheritance to be paid now rather than waiting for a future date. Because the son is still quite young, he had not yet worked in the business long enough to have truly “earned” his inheritance, but he had some pretty convincing arguments for the early payout. For reasons we may not understand completely, the father agrees to the withdraw of funds and the son prepares for his next day departure.
Time passes and the son who stayed has worked tirelessly by his father’s side. He has seen many of life’s privileges and enjoyed every aspect of the bounty of his father’s business empire, including the support and companionship of many talented and genuine friends and family by his side.
In sharp contrast, the son that left has lived riotously and squandered away all of his inheritance and has barely been scraping by on what food he can beg from strangers; often living homeless and destitute without friends and family for support. He finds himself in such dire circumstances, that he is willing to return home and take whatever work he can get in his father’s home. With more than a few hard life lessons learned, the son decides to return home, expecting to perhaps find his father has forgotten him or cut him off of future opportunity. Instead, upon arrival at the front gate, he finds open arms and a warm reception- more importantly, the son returns to find HOME!!
When discussing this story, it is the plight of the two sons that is often discussed. Who earned what, who should forgive whom, etc.? Many times, I have pondered on these two sons…
However, it was in the challenges of this year that I began to think of the father. There is a lot of value in his actions and his parenting decisions that brought me strength and courage when I needed it most.
First, it is completely logical to infer that this is not the father’s first experience with the son who desires an early escape into the great big world. As a father who has labored and taught and instructed his sons, it is fair to assume that he has an intimate awareness of the appetites, desires, and possible weaknesses of each son. It may not even be the first time that the father has given money to both sons, only to see the one save and the one spend recklessly. He could have offered a bribe, maybe the option to stay a little longer and learn a little more. He could have completely forbidden the son’s departure or refused to transfer the money. Rather, the father trusted his parenting enough to trust the son’s journey- it may not have been the ideal plan; it may not have been the original dream or vision for his sons, but it was to be THIS son’s journey- it would be through THIS journey that the son would become his own man of experience and wisdom!
Second, with the father’s wealth and influence in the community, it would be reasonable to think that the father had the ability to ‘safeguard’ his son and protect him from failure or from danger. He could easily have sent a servant to follow the son, instructing the servant to leave food to be found when the son was hungry or money for the when the son had no shelter or clothing. In his wide social circle, he could have arranged for work or requested frequent updates as to the son’s whereabouts and conditions. As a wealthy man, he had the means to to find a way to protect, shelter and carry the burdens of a struggling child; leaving no trace that his son had been under careful and watchful care. However, again trusting the son’s journey, he chose to hold back and stay at home, nurturing his family and tending to his friends, employees, and his business.
Third… oh, the stubbornness, pride, regret, remorse, fear and anxiety that the father could have fallen into; questioning every decision and every rule or lack thereof. He could have left and followed after the son himself, losing all the relationships and abundance that he had worked so long to establish. He could have crumbled in all the emotion and lost everything that so many had built together. But he stayed home, he continued to grow his business and his relationships. Trusting in the son’s journey, he put himself in the soon to be needed position of somewhere, and someone, to call HOME! When his struggling son needed him most, the father was ready, willing, and able to welcome his son back-
My favorite part of this tale lies in what does not get told- because of my own personal experience in the roles of both the father and the son, I feel qualified to create ‘the rest of the story’. The baggage that the son brings home will be both heavy and burdensome- and will be for quite some time. The son has returned home, but he may have more to his journey to truly BE HOME. But because the father has trusted, and can continue to trust, the only baggage the son needs to carry is his own. With family and friends by his side, often relieving the weight he carries on his shoulders and the doubts that lie in his heart, the son will be free to continue finding his path and his joyful journey.
The moral of the story- at some point, we cannot control or even walk the paths that our children may walk,whether it is a choice or a burden they bear. Every step that we try to walk for our children will result in one step that they cannot walk themselves. There may be times that we can walk beside them, sometimes that we can lead and guide them, but there will be equally as many times that we must watch them walk alone, and sometimes watch them walk away. It may be painful, it may hurt, it may ache and bruise and tear at our very beings- but we simply must trust the journey of our children and our own personal journey. Trust in who you are, trust in what you’ve taught- I promise both may not be perfect, but they are perfect enough! I know there are exceptions, but if you’ve stayed with me this far, I have a fair degree of confidence that you have taught, you have guided, you have inspired, and you have prepared…
And now you wait…
- You trust who you are and you trust the journey- both yours and your child’s. I shared my own personal parenting doubts and lessons learned a few weeks ago, if you feel that you are in doubt about who you have been as a parent, take a moment and read that now. It may shed some strength on your weakened and trembling shoulders.
- You nurture what you can nurture and you continue on the path that brings you strength and support. When a child is struggling, it is easy to retreat from what we know best- try, try, TRY to stay true to the ground that you have already gained- in parenting and in your personal relationships and needs.
- and You forgive! You forgive that time you left your child at the grocery store or the park. You forgive that morning you were angry that they couldn’t find their shoes. And you forgive your child for the decisions that they are making and the hurt that you are feeling. You forgive and you heal so when the child needs home, you are ready and able to be the comfort and security they will need to finish their journey!