If this has happened once, it’s happened dozens of times. Whether I’ve been introduced to a new couple or I’m visiting with old friends, eventually I like to bring the conversation around to their children. I’ll ask, “So, how are your kids doing these days?”
With broad smiles and glowing faces, they’re eager to report the good things going on with several of their kids. So-and-so is “doing great in school” . . . “made honors English” . . . “got the lead in the school play” . . . “scored the winning goal” . . . or “was hired by a big law firm.” They’re irresistibly proud of their son or daughter, and it shows.
Then comes the long pause.
Searching for the right words, a pained look settles over them like a dark cloud. Finally, they mention one of their children “needs prayer,” is “making bad decisions,” “got pregnant and isn’t married,” or decided to “drop out of college.” They might confess they’re worried about the direction a teenager is headed or fret over the apparent lack of interest in spiritual matters.
As these folks open up, their words are seasoned with sadness and a touch of embarrassment. Some will add, “I just don’t know what’s going on with her” . . . “I can’t explain why he’s making such poor choices” . . . “we raised her the same way as the other kids” . . . “what I can’t figure out is how he turned out so differently from his siblings.”
I can understand their puzzlement. Same house. Same set of family rules. Same investment of time. Same show of affection. And yet, opposite outcomes. Frustrated, these couples search my eyes as if I could help them pinpoint where they went wrong. I can tell they’re longing for someone to give them the insight that might turn things around for their prodigal.
Defeated and overwhelmed to the point of tears, they second-guess themselves . . . “Did we make mistakes with him?” . . . “Did we miss opportunities to connect with her?” . . . “Should we have fought less?” . . . “Maybe if we had prayed more . . .”
In my view second-guessing is an unproductive expenditure of energy. Were parenting mistakes made? Probably. Could they have done a better job of showing unconditional love? Perhaps. The truth is that there are no perfect parents. Not now. Not ever. Which is why nobody parents perfectly. I’ll be the first to say there’s always room for improvement on my part.
Guess what? Even if you and I were to do a near-perfect job of parenting, there’s still no guarantee that our children will excel in their studies, make the best choices, date the right kind of person, embrace our value system, or invite Jesus into their hearts. Why? Our kids are not little vending machines – you know, insert the right change and get the same product every time.
Case in point.
Guess what Billy Graham, Josh McDowell, and Wes Craven have in common?
They all graduated from Wheaton College, a Christian college in Illinois. Upon graduation, Billy Graham preached the Good News to millions around the world and Josh McDowell became a world-renown Christian apologist.
By contrast, filmmaker Wes Craven has terrorized millions of kids with his brand of blood-drenched, depraved horror movies, including the wildly popular R-rated slasher films Scream and Nightmare on Elm Street. Not to mention Craven’s iconic slasher hero, Freddy Krueger, is a serial child molester.
How did that happen? Wes went to the same college. He was taught the same Christian value system. He had the same quality of Christian professors. He attended the same kind of weekly chapel services. And yet Wes Craven followed a pathway in life that took him in a polar opposite direction from that of his fellow alumni.
Why are we surprised when this happens? If you read through the Old Testament of the Bible, you’ll be struck by the fact that wicked kings sometimes produced godly sons . . . and godly kings were succeeded by wicked sons.
Here’s what I’m driving at.
Each person is ultimately responsible to God for their choices and behavior. As a parent, I am not responsible for the decisions my boys will one day make. However, as their father I am
accountable to God to do my best, to train them in the scripture, and to show them the love of Christ. But one day they will stand before the Lord to give an accounting for their life.
In that respect, we parents would do well to cut ourselves some slack when our kids decide to ignore the wisdom they’ve received. Yes, we should love them well, model grace and forgiveness, and never stop praying for them. Then, while it may break our hearts, I believe we’ve got to release them and leave the results up to God.