Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Prodigal Parenting

You may know the story of the two sons--one dutiful, one wasteful. The father who loved both.

The younger son, the prodigal, asked for his inheritance early, then squandered it on wild living. He found himself with nothing, feeding pigs, longing to eat their slop. And so he decided to return home, where at least his father's servants were well-fed. On the way back, he planned his apology speech: "Father, I know I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be your son; make me like one of your hired servants."

This son underestimated his father's love for him.

When the son was still a long way off, the father saw him--which makes me think that he was watching, hoping.

He did not wait for his son to walk home. He did not wait for the planned apology. He did not ask for an admission of guilt.

The father ran. He ran to the son who insulted him by asking for his money, who wasted the money on prostitutes and partying. He threw his arms around this son, this prodigal, ignored the practiced speech and gave him a ring and a feast, restoring him and giving him even greater honor. For after all, this son had been lost and was now found.

I said yes too many times last week. Yes to commitments that left me stressed and exhausted, worried and tense.

My boys, who no longer nap, spend most of their "rest time" fighting and getting into trouble. Easily making it the least restful part of any day. During this week of over-extension, I lost it during non-rest time.

The Mommy Monster came out, voice raised and fangs bared. I lost patience--or never had it--and yelled, slammed doors. Even as I was recognizing that I needed a step back, I could not seem to find the reasonable part of me. She was lost in the frustration and exhaustion and everything else. She had given up, lost her ground, traded in her inheritance for something cheap, something ugly. 

The story of the two sons is most commonly known as The Prodigal Son. We think of prodigal as the one who leaves and returns, the one who has run away.

The meaning of prodigal has nothing to do with running away or returning. It means wasteful, recklessly spendthrift. In the parable it refers to the son wasting his plentiful inheritance. We consider the rebellion and the return, but sometimes miss the waste.

I sat my boys down in the floor, still exhausted, still feeling riled and not far off from the monster I had been. I could not even get my speech, planned while I had vacuumed lunch's crumbs from the floor, out of my mouth.

"Mommy, I'm sorry we were fighting and did not obey. Will you forgive me?" Sawyer said, and climbed into my lap, kissing me on my cheeks and nose and forehead. "I really love you," he said.

"Thank you, but I want to tell you boys--"

Lincoln began to stroke my arm. "I like you Kirsten. I really like you, Kikimojo. I love you, Mommy. Does this make you feel better?"

I was the son with my practiced speech, shamed by my actions. My boys were the father, running when I was still a long way off to cover me in kisses and comfort me in my tears.

I am the prodigal. Wasting this precious love in my impatience and anger, my frustrations that began with my too-busy week, not two boys misbehaving. Wasting the grace that God gave me, lifting his robes to run like that father, to put the ring on my finger and throw a feast in my honor. Wasting such precious time which could be gone in a moment, without warning. Such lavish waste.

I did get my apology out. I asked for my boys' forgiveness and told them that I screwed up. It is so important, I think, for us to admit this to our children. They know, anyway, that we are flawed. More than anyone, our family sees our cracks and tears, our failings and weaknesses.

I thought for many years that as a Christian, I was to appear perfect. That was how you witness to people, right?

But we are all in on the secret: not a one of us is perfect. The more we try to hide our shortcomings, to put on some mask to hide the monsters, the more of a monster we appear. It is in transparency and humility that we show the love of God, whether to our children or anyone else. For in our weakness, we point to the father.

We are prodigal, wasting the gifts, the love, the grace, God himself. He is that father, rejoicing when we return, not tallying up all the things we have squandered away.  Before we can begin our practiced speeches, he has covered us with kisses, called for the feast to be prepared. We have an abundance of grace, visible so much more against the backdrop of our own wastefulness.

Prodigal is not who I want to be and not, ultimately, who I am.

The son, returning, had his head hung low. He saw himself not fit to be a son, perhaps through mercy, fit only to be a servant. He saw his waste, his sin against heaven and earth.

The father saw his son. Dearly loved, lost and found. More even--he says that this son was dead and is now alive. The Bible is laden with promises, with truths about our identity. Through Jesus, we are made new. We were dead, and are now made alive.

When I think of myself as the son did, as simply wasteful, neglectful of the gifts I have been given, undeserving of a place at the table, I am wasting something larger: I am wasting the truth of my identity as daughter of the king. 

And if I do not share my failings and the hope that comes from God with my children, who daily see me fail, or with those around me who also see and know my failing humanity, then I am prodigal all the more. For I am wasting an opportunity to point to the Father, who runs to meet me in my shame. I am wasting an opportunity to teach my children about the grace given because of those moments where they see me fail.

Let us not waste grace. Let us not waste precious moments with those we love. And when we do--for we will--let us not waste the opportunity to point to the one who is running to meet us, though we are so very undeserving.

How much more beautiful is that love, lavished on the wasteful. Let me share the story of that love with those around me.

May I lavish that same love on them.



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