A few days ago, my husband and I stood in the Home Department of TK Max, shopping for pots and pans, kitchen utensils, can openers and all manner of other kitchen paraphernalia. It seemed a strange thing to be doing, considering our twentieth wedding anniversary takes place later this month. Talk about de-ja-vu! Only this time, the kitchen stuff wasn’t for us. It was for our eighteen-year-old son, who we helped move into University yesterday.
No matter how prepared you think you are, the day your first-born moves out of home, comes around all too quickly. Didn’t everyone tell you it would go by in the blink of an eye? But when the time comes for your precious child to fly the nest, you’re in pieces! Suddenly you can no longer walk past that photo of them on the bookcase without welling up.
But even though our son moved out physically just yesterday, there are times when our teenage children can feel strangely absent, long before they ever leave.
The pulling away of a teenager can be so painful. The disconnect can be subtle at first. The rolling of their eyes every time you ask them to take their dirty cup out to the dishwasher. The walking around the house with their headphones permanently in place. The aloofness. The lack of eye contact. Warm smiles replaced with aggressive retorts.
You learn to brace yourself for the volcano that’s about to erupt any time you need to speak into an aspect of their life. It could be the down-hill slump in their grades at school. Or a concern you have over a relationship. Whatever the issue, you know it won’t be an easy conversation. You convince yourself these ugly blow-ups are just a phase. Your child is hormonal. This too shall pass.
But, for some of us, things only go from bad to worse. Your teen keeps oversleeping and turning up an hour late to church. You decide to apply grace. After all, it’s probably best not to force the issue. But then a year down the line, it’s resoundingly clear. They’ve stopped attending altogether. Now they visibly cringe every time you play worship music in the house. And if you ever try and drop a scripture into a conversation, well, you may as well have dropped a hand-grenade.
Some of us, sadly, may reach a place where our sons or our daughters become openly and brazenly hostile to the gospel – where their lifestyle choices begin to get rather alarming. Drugs, alcohol, toxic relationships, sexual immorality, anxiety, depression, self-harming. If any of these things resonate with you, dear reader, then I weep alongside you. It’s an excruciating thing to watch unfold. Some days you feel ashamed. Some days you blame yourself. Most days, everything inside you just screams out at them: “Stop! No further! You’re going to make a total train-wreck of your life!” But they simply cannot see it. Once you were the voice they trusted the most. Now, you are the enemy – the brainwashed boundary-setter that they are determined to defy.
I wonder if the Prodigal Son just woke up one day and decided to cash-in his inheritance and leave his father’s home? I wonder if he had designs on leaving long before he ever did? Perhaps, in his heart, he too had begun to pull away and distance himself in the months that proceeded his departure. Nevertheless, it still must have been quite a shock to have a child ask for his share of the family property before anyone had even died. It must have been an absolute kick in the gut to hear that just a few days later, the son had sold his share of the property, travelled to a far-off country, where he began to squander every last penny on reckless living. This son was lost in more ways than one.
There are times, as a parent, when we realise that ‘we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.’ (Ephesians 6:12)
There are times, as a parent, when our hearts feel close to breaking and all we can do is pray. We’ve read all the best parenting books. We have even applied different biblical approaches – A soft answer one day; tough love and discipline the next. But nothing we do or say seems to bring about the breakthrough. Only God can change the inner condition of the human soul. Only a work of the Holy Spirit can inscribe God’s holy laws upon a person’s heart. Sometimes, we must let our child go and fight the battle on our knees. The Father didn’t stop his son from leaving. But neither did he give up hoping and praying for his return.
So, whether your teen has left the house in person, or whether they have become a stranger living under your roof, let me encourage you today to never underestimate the power of prayer. Let’s remember together that ‘the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God for the pulling down of strongholds, casting down arguments, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God’– 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Perhaps, in some cases, it’s only when our child ‘leaves’ our covering; when they ‘go to a far-off country’ and hit rock bottom – and all we can do is watch and pray – that God’s inner work can finally be done.
So if you’re a hurting parent today. hang on in there. Let’s remember that the Prodigal son eventually came to his senses and yearned once again for his Father’s House. Let’s keep hoping, watching, praying and believing, that even though weeping may endure for a night, that joy – resounding, explosive, inexpressible joy – will come in the morning,