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Friday, June 22, 2012

Prodigal Son Revisited

I've always felt sorry for the prodigal son's brother. I've heard sermons likening him to the Pharisees, condemning him for being proud and contemptuous of his wayward brother, and disrespectful of his father. Still, I can't help but feel he got the short end of the stick, in more ways than one.

As the parent of two sons, each of whom has commanded the lion's share of my attention at different points, I have at times fallen into the classic parent trap - fretting over the one who's getting in trouble, while allowing the status quo one to fend for himself. The theory goes, if it's not broke, don't fix it; ergo, we leave the well performing child to continue, well, performing well, while thrusting our gaze (and efforts) onto every mess made by the erring child.

This makes sense up to a point. Some situations demand to be handled now. No one is going to walk away from a grease fire without trying to snuff out the flames, or at the very least, bellowing for help. On the other hand, it would be foolhardy to smother a blaze in one burner, then fail to check for any lingering sparks in the other three. This is precisely what we do when we try to straighten out the "misbehaver," all the while ignoring the well-doer(s).

Today I spoke with a single mom whose adult child is wreaking havoc in her own life and the rest of the family's. This mother's decision to remove her daughter from the home, while heartbreaking, reminded me of all the principles I've gleaned from 20 years in Al Anon. Her refusal to allow herself or her other children to be held hostage to one child's destructive decisions not only threw a safety net around the other offspring, but could well prove a lifeline to the offender. Enabling, as 12-step recovery programs attest, rarely produces anything except reinforcement of bad behavior. Conversely, requiring accountability and responsibility from even the neediest wrongdoer offers at least a slim chance of change for the better (as well as proving we have faith in our child's ability to overcome his or her demons).

So if I had the ear of the prodigal son's dad, I think I'd say something like this: it's fine to watch and wait for your missing son, so long as you don't neglect the one who's doing his duty. Reconciliation with your wastrel is a worthy goal, but so is recognition of the one who's been doing right all along.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Life is a Full-time Job

Isn't it? Do you, like me, sometimes feel that 24 hours is far too short a time span to accomplish the tasks that lie before you? Do you struggle to keep up with the business aspects of your life, or maybe shortchange non-mandatory things like keeping in touch with a friend who lives at a distance, or visiting a sick relative? Have you ever felt your kids needed more of your time than you could spare because their needs were cutting into grocery shopping time or - heaven forbid - your obligation to the almighty work place?

I've had to take a step back recently and think about what's really important. I'm having a room renovated in my house, and there's spackle dust everywhere. Work has been busy; I have a weekend job, as well as my full-time job, and the demands of both have been heavy lately. I've been putting time into relationships with family and friends, both of which are essential to my role as a single mom. But, as a single parent, it's critical that I be available for my sons.

Where does God fit into all this?

For a long time, I used to offer up my schedule and priorities to the Lord on a daily basis. But of late I've been trying to fit it all in and squeeze in maybe ten minutes with Him before work in the morning. It's just not enough, and I've been feeling the results of trying to carry a load that was never mine to begin with.

So I've made it a point these last couple of days, when illness and fatigue kept me homebound, to put more effort into my "vertical" relationship. I placed communion with heaven ahead of earthly, "horizontal" affairs. An incredible thing happened. I spent a lot of time working on my connection with God, after which I still had time to tackle some of the matters that were being neglected. I guess Jesus was right when He told us to "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33).

Life is a full-time job. But we must never forget that God is our employer.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


My friend Cindy loves to garden. She has beautified the space she lives in just by adding loving touches like color and hardscape. She also "tithes" on the skills God has endowed her with by donating much time to landscaping at her church.

Yesterday, she decided to do "a little cleanup" after attending a Bible study at her house of worship. The job looked simple enough. Just some trees she wanted to extricate from the overgrowth that was obscuring their beauty and feeding on their nutrients. Five and a half hours later, she was grimy from removing a massive group of vines that had become tangled around an otherwise healthy tree. Every time she thought she was done, there was yet another layer of roots that had embedded themselves into the surrounding soil. She noted clinically that, while she was working, a group of men from the church showed up for an outside activity. Dressed and prepped for the great outdoors, they nevertheless failed to offer assistance to the obviously struggling young woman. The pastor, likewise, passed her without comment or even offering a drink of water.

When I stated that these oversights would have angered me, Cindy replied that she merely found them interesting and analogous to the sin problem many churches face. On the surface, things look like they're going along fine. There might be critical murmurings or minor dissension, just like those weeds that looked so manageable before she started tackling them. But we don't have to finish what we fail to begin, so many times we simply overlook the symptoms of a larger problem so as not to get our hands dirty. And eventually those weeds - tares, really - turn out to be only the tip of a colossal undergrowth of life-killing manglers that we would have discovered if only we had dared disturb the surface.

Is Cindy looking to cause problems, stir the pot, as it were? Heaven forbid. This Godly woman labors for her Lord because she loves Him with all her heart and soul and mind (Matthew 22:37); she's not looking for recognition or help, unless others feel the call to give it. Neither is she suggesting believers dig around in healthy gardens looking for worms. I think she would agree, though, that we ought not avoid obvious signs of trouble just because the task looks unappealing.

For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: Weeds 2

Morsels for Meditation...: Tenacity