Archive for the ‘prodigals’ Category

Loving a “Wild Thing”

The oddest things make me cry these days.

Reading to cuddly two-year-old Luke before naptime:

The night Max wore the wolf suit and made mischief of one kind…

and another…

his mother called him, “Wild Thing!”

And Max said, “I’ll eat you up!”

and was sent to bed without eating anything.

–from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

And I wished, oh how I wished, that it were only a wolf suit and some idle words, instead of mischief and misdemeanor that the wide world frowns on.  I wished he were only in his room instead of in a concrete block.  I wished I could fix him supper after sending him to bed without it, and serve it to him “still hot”.  Instead I know that he never gets enough to satisfy him, the tall young man with the high metabolism.

As long as he chooses to be the King of all Wild Things, and go on wild rumpuses any chance he gets…then he’s better off staying where he is.  But someday, please God, he’ll decide that he’s lonely.  He’ll really want to be “where someone loves him best of all”.  Then perhaps he’ll step into his private boat and sail back over a year and in and out of weeks…

and he’ll not only find his supper waiting for him, but he’ll see his parents sailing out to meet him as he approaches the harbor.  And they’ll be smiling.   And so will his Father.

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October 2015 update:  The son for whom I wrote the original post, below, is 24 1/2, has had a full time job and a (rented) house of his own for over two years. He is contented, hard-working, loving and clean-living.  I am thankful for the many encouraging testimonies that have appeared in the comments section over the years.  I’m also thankful that some hurting moms have turned it into a forum for sharing prayer requests and words of wisdom with one another. God bless each of you who struggles with a son making bad choices. May you find comfort in the Lord, in His word, and in what you read here.

April 2013 update:  Many of you who write would like to know how to help a believing child stay strong if they are serving a long sentence. I urge you to make contact with Prison Fellowship as soon as possible. This page in particular provides material you can download and print for free to share with your child behind bars. There are also resources for those who are getting out of prison and needing to transition back into normal life.


January 2013 update:  My now 21-year-old son is doing well, staying out of trouble, though not out of the woods yet. He is still fighting with God, and struggling with his self-image. But we see many positive signs, and we continue to pray for him. We’re glad to have him living with us.

This letter that I wrote to him four years ago this month seems to have taken on a life of its own. I am humbly grateful that so many moms have found it helpful in some way. I do read (and try to respond to) every comment posted here. If you would like to use any or all of the words of this letter in writing to your own loved own, please be my guest.  I am not worrying about copyright, etc. I will be thankful if my heartfelt words can reach some other young person.



My very dear son:

Well, you find yourself in a familiar place, confined once again. I can’t say, “This hurts me more than it hurts you,” but it hurts in a different way.  I am pained by the choices that led you to that place you had vowed never to enter again.  I am angry at your foolish action; disappointed in your lack of self-control, judgment and respect for authority; saddened that you will probably spend your 18th birthday locked up. But I have hope, because I truly believe that God is especially fond of you.  He’s applying His law of sowing and reaping in real time for you, so that you can see the consequences of your actions more clearly than many others do.  I believe that the justice you feel is also mercy.

You’ve told me that you think the God of the Bible was invented to make people feel badly about themselves.  And yet you do believe in some kind of Creator, which shows some good sense on your part.  The Bible makes you angry, and God has disappointed you by not revealing Himself to you when you asked Him.

I can’t answer all your questions, Adam.  But I can tell you that if the Bible makes you feel badly about yourself, then you have only heard half of its message.  The bad news of God’s truth is that we are sinful, prideful, prone to make the wrong choices. ( And I know that you’ll argue that God shouldn’t have set things up that way in the first place.  You don’t see the point of free will, but I don’t think you’d like the alternative either.)  My point is that the Bible paints a vivid picture of our sinfulness, in all its ugly detail.  From Genesis to Revelation, stories of people who stray from God are right up front.

But at the same moment, Scripture tells us the Good News, which is that God gets involved to make another way for us, a way to break free of our bent toward sin.  He wants to redeem the whole world–the price is a perfect life, laid down willingly. Jesus’ death paid the penalty, and His life is the perfect pattern for us to follow.  He wants to straighten us out so that we can participate in the great work of reconciliation.

The Kingdom of God is so much bigger  than just “heaven when you die,” Adam… I’m just beginning to see a glimpse of all that our lives can be–abundant and joy-filled now and always.  It’s not about what you can get away with, or how much personal pleasure you can experience.  It’s about wanting what God wants for you, and finding a pleasure which you could never have imagined when you were living for yourself.

I know that you haven’t seen this in action, at least not that you could recognize.  I’m praying that God will begin to help you make sense of His plans for your life, and for all life.  I’m praying for myself that I understand what God wants of me–not just as your mom, but as an apprentice working for His Kingdom right now.  I get hints of it–scattered notes carried on the wind, a glimpse of something just over the horizon, a whiff of strange perfume on the air.   I hope that I’ll understand more soon.  Meanwhile, I love you dearly.  I’ll see you soon.

In Hope–

Your mom

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…You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over…

–Psalm 23:5, Revised English Bible, c. 1976, Oxford University Press.

Anything trouble you about this translation?  It certainly brought me up short when I read it last night in The Divine Hours, pocket edition (Phyllis Tickle, editor).  After looking at all 18 available English translations on Bible Gateway (along with both French translations), I’m even more puzzled as to how “enemies” or “foes” or “adversaries” could have become “those who trouble me”.

Lots of people trouble me, often without intention or even awareness on their part.  My sons trouble me, a lot.  Some politicians trouble me, big time.  Rude sales clerks irk me.  But are they the adversaries in the presence of whom God has spread a banquet for me? I am going to assume that “those who trouble me” must imply that they intentionally want to cause me trouble.

I’m fascinated by how much that simple change of phrase has personalized this verse for me…a verse I never could relate to, since I don’t consider myself to have any enemies per se.   I’m fascinated–but troubled, because the immediate mental picture which sprang to mind was of our younger son.  I’d just had yet another long conversation with him about how he sees no evidence of God’s goodness or truth in his life, and no value in the Bible.  (To his credit, he is really wrestling with these issues, talking frankly with us and not letting go of his anger.  We find this much more encouraging than his apathy would be.)

Of course one’s own family being adversaries is not an unbiblical notion either.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
” ‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

–Matthew 10:34-39, NIV, emphasis mine.

At this point, the aggressor in our home is hoping (at least this is his overt goal) to make us admit that our faith is unsubstantiated, bogus.  He troubles us with hostile, inflammatory language.  Sometimes I refuse to engage. Once I answered his question in writing, and may choose to do so again.   My hope is that somewhere in the midst of this battle–much of which is being waged with his own spirit–the Holy Spirit will be able to pierce the shell of willful unbelief with truth.  The bonds of self-deception are thick and tangled, and I know there is only One who can set him free.

This said, I return to the psalm and I wonder:  What is the purpose of spreading a table in front of one’s foes?  Is it a picture of being vindicated publicly?  Divinely favored, in the face of those who have questioned, “Where is your God?”  Did any of King David’s enemies turn to the Lord when they saw that God was with him? I’m betting they did. All of which brings me back to that verse I mentioned in a post last week:

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…

–I Peter 3:15

As I bear witness to the ways that God encourages me–and I’d better be paying attention to those daily ways!–with gentleness and respect, might not the one who now troubles me begin to develop a hunger for the feast that I enjoy?  Indeed, I think he’s already getting hunger pangs.  He just can’t admit it yet.

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I’ve suspended my disbelief

and the suspense is killing me.

Is he or isn’t he–? Yes? No?

The aimless wanderer hung out

with so-called friends, no goals, no ends,

followed after and fell forward.

Did he–? Could he–? Will the plea be…?

Viewing this cliffhanger ending,

heart wrung out, like sheets on the line,

flaps in the wind, flings drops wildly.

My thoughts pound and echo, rising

up and falling back from hope like

warning clangs and claps of struck bells.

Swinging back and forth, an endless

litany of minute questions.

“Did he–? Was he–? Could he–? Will we–?”

Knife-edged comfort, to depend on

others’ knowledge, virtue, mercy.

Truth is up for grabs, and hope hangs

in the balance, love a grave and

constant weight, an anchor here, now.

Waiting. Yes, no? Innocent or–?

Lord, I believe. I’ve hung up my

unbelief. Hang on to me so

the suspense won’t kill me.

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