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.
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