He’s not only in the world, but of it as well.
Your kid is engaging in behaviors that make this very, very clear.
So what do we, as parents, typically do?
We head off in the wrong direction. We start an aggressive campaign of behavior modification.
“You can’t still be smoking? You know you’re gonna die sooner as a result.”
“Why don’t you go with us to church anymore? Do you know what people are thinking?”
“I’m not stupid. I know you and your girlfriend are sleeping together.”
Chances you’ve not only told them, but you’ve told them, and told them, and told them.
Now . . . imagine this scenario.
You wake up tomorrow and your child says, “Give me a list. Write down absolutely everything that you disapprove of in my behaviors.” Then, much to your amazement, he goes on to accommodate everything single thing on your list.
He stops smoking.
He attends church. He even sings every hymn with emotion.
He stops sleeping with his girlfriend.
He gets a better job, works solid hours.
He cuts his hair. He has that tattoo removed. And you frequently find him chatting up little old ladies at the back of the church.
Feel the sigh of relief this brings.
Everything looks good. By all outward signs, this is a changed young man. Any behavior that was on your list is now altered to line up with the perfect image of a good Christian boy.
But the problem? Your boy still isn’t a Christian.
He has simply changed his behaviors to accommodate your list.
And the question then becomes—just what have you accomplished?
At best, you’ve alleviated some of the consequences of his bad decisions.
His body will not be dealing with the assault of smoke.
He’s not going to participate in an unplanned pregnancy or transmission of an STD.
But at worst, he’s now farther from the very God you want him to embrace.
He’s just playing along.
He has changed his behavior so that you’ll leave him alone. In fact, he may even believe that all you really care about is not being embarrassed by his actions around other church members.
In the end, he may conclude that none of this has anything to do with his heart, or his relationship with a Christ who longs for him, both now and in eternity.
He’s pretty sure it’s really about appearances.
And if he has bought into that lie, then he’s now even farther from God. And that is a worse place than when he was simply engaging in poor behaviors.
At least back then, there was a line of integrity between his beliefs and his heart.
So . . . what to do now?
Step back from the intense behavior-focused drama. Realize that a change in behavior is meaningless on issues of salvation. Focus on what matters. Drop the concern with how he looks and acts. Instead, plant your thoughts and comments on his state of mind, state of heart, and spiritual condition. Put the right things in the center of the target. It’s all about the heart.
What about you? Have you put too much emphasis on your prodigal’s behavior? What do you wish you had stopped doing sooner? What can you do today to reverse course?
Carol Barnier has shared the insights learned from own journey as a pastor’s daughter turned atheist in this new book, Engaging Today’s Prodigal: Clear Thinking, New Approaches, and Reasons for Hope, by Moody Publishers. Learn what her parents and church did well, and what they perhaps wish they’d done differently. Learn what brought her back to faith, and learn why reader J. Hahn wrote, “Thank you, Carol. I’m breathing again.” To connect with Carol, visit www.CarolBarnier.com