Reaching Our Prodigals

Author:
Dr. James Dobson
toughlove.jpg

An important component of "love must be tough" is that it is most successful in a crisis. That's when change is most likely to occur. It doesn't happen when two agitated and angry people are engaged in a collision of wills. The "coming together" usually happens later, when conviction and compassion interact. Again, Windsor responded like the Christian mom she is. She asked for guidance from the Holy Spirit and received it.

To illustrate further, let’s read the parable of the Prodigal Son, told by Jesus and recorded in Luke 15:11–32. You will see how this story coincides with what we read in the Yellens' experience. Though the Scripture and Jesus' words are not referred to as "tough love," that is exactly what I would call them. You'll see why as we review the story: 

A man had two sons. When the younger told his father, "I want my share of your estate now, instead of waiting until you die!" his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. A few days later this younger son packed all his belonging and took a trip to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money on parties and prostitutes.

About the time his money was gone a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him to feed his pigs. The boy became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the swine looked good to him. And no one gave him anything. When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, "At home even the hired men have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, 'Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired man.'"

So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming, and was filled with loving pity and ran and embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and you, and am not worthy of being called your son..." But his father said to the slaves, "Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. And a jeweled ring for his finger; and shoes! And kill the calf we have in the fattening pen. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has returned to life. He was lost and is found." So the party began.

Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working; when he returned home, he heard dance music coming from the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. "Your brother is back," he was told, "and your father has killed the calf we were fattening and has prepared a great feast to celebrate his coming home again unharmed." The older brother was angry and wouldn't go in. His father came out and begged him. But he replied, "All these years I’ve worked hard for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to; and in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after spending your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the finest calf we have on the place."

"Look, dear son," his father said to him, "you and I are very close, and everything I have is yours. But it is right to celebrate. For he is your brother; and he was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!" (see Luke 15:11–32, NLT)

This account contains several important understandings that are highly relevant to our day.

First, the father did not try to locate his son and drag him home. The boy was apparently old enough to make his own decisions and the father allowed him to determine his course.

Second, the father did not come to his rescue during the financial stresses that followed. He was a wealthy landowner and could have sent his servants to bring him comfort. Nor did the father send money. There were no well-meaning church groups or governmental agencies that helped support his folly. Note in verses 16 and 17, "No one gave him anything...he finally came to his senses." There is a powerful connection between those verses. The Prodigal Son learned from adversity. The parent who is too anxious to ease the misery of a son or daughter when they have behaved foolishly might be performing a disservice.

Third, the father welcomed his son home without belittling him or demanding reparations. He didn’t say, "I told you you'd make a mess of things!" or, "You've embarrassed your mom and me and the whole family." Instead, he ran to meet his son and threw his arms around him. Again, this is the "loving" part of Love Must Be Tough. The father said, "He was lost and is found!" and the family celebrated with a feast. As for the elder brother, he knew how to be tough, but he had no clue about how to love.

Although this understanding of conflict resolution is fairly simple to comprehend, some parents have trouble getting it. If they are afraid to make their child uncomfortable or unhappy when he or she is wrong or sinful (or both), they have to be strong. If the parents lack the determination to win the inevitable confrontations that arise, the child will sense their tentativeness and push them further away. If appeasement occurs, it is curtains for the relationship. The end result will be frustrated, irritated, and ineffectual parents and rebellious, selfish, and even more willful children.

From Dr. Dobson's book Your Legacy: The Greatest Gift.

Donate today and
support our mission

Donate