When the Prodigal is a Parent

Marriage offers many benefits, but primarily a healthy marriage provides balance. Since spenders wed savers, risk-takers bond to safety-lovers, chocoholics find physical trainers, and spastics unite with steady-rudders, balance is maintained because they keep each other in check.
But divorce severs that tether allowing natural tendencies and desires to go unleashed. So, basking in post-marriage freedom, drinkers can drink more, couch potatoes couch more, spenders spend more, and philanderers play the field. However, we get entangled in all this. 

Wanting to scream
How do you greet Mom’s 12th boyfriend? Are you responsible to keep your father from eating Cheetos and Red Bull chasers for dinner? Does Mom really think she looks good in that outfit made for women 25 years younger? Tired of explaining to your kids how “til death do us part” fits into grandpa’s fourth wedding? Frustrated because your parents don’t get why you’re upset with their life choices? Perhaps a look at prodigals may help.

Perspective on Prodigals
The word “prodigal” comes from a story Jesus told about a young man who left the blessings of his home and “wasted all his money in wild living.”1 The son eventually realizes he messed up and plans to return home groveling. But the father sees the son returning and runs to greet him. Instead of condemnation, kisses and hugs are showered on the son. Then the father throws a my-rebellious-son-who-I-dearly-love-has-returned party. Jesus’ point is we are the prodigal and God is the father. As such, we should respond to our prodigals as the father in this story—but we usually don’t.

How we deal with our prodigals
Our response to prodigal parents is often:
1)     We brood over how things should be, could have been, or how we wish our parents should act.
2)    We harbor bitterness and unforgiveness, and withhold grace because we focus on our parent’s prodigal ways (and the hurt it causes) forgetting we, too, are prodigals in God’s eyes.
3)    We dabble in their behaviors because we’ve secretly wanted to do it anyway and if a parent can do something it’s justified for us…even if we know it’s wrong.

How does God deal with prodigals?
He loves them.  And we need to follow God’s example, but how do we do that?
1) Pray for them – prayer may change them, but often changes our attitude toward them.
2) No badmouthing. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.2  It’s tempting to talk them down, but find the positives and talk them up—particularly in front of your kids.
3) Maintain boundaries – Often their decisions impact us because we allow them to. Our desire for their love, or fear of losing it, can cause us to comingle in their dysfunction instead of maintaining healthy boundaries in love3.

While prodigal parents can challenge us, they can also stimulate spiritual and character growth. We just need to remember their actions are their choice. Our response is our choice.

1Luke 15:13, NLT
2Ephesians 4:29, NLT
3Henry Cloud, John Townsend, Boundaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.)

Images
Shutterstock
The Parables of Our Lord – The Prodigal Son by John Everett Millais by Birmingham Museum and Art  Gallery
Talk to the hand by Matt Foster
Bible with Cross Shadow by David Campbell

Advertisements

Graduations, Triggers, and Anger

Your high school graduation was long ago. Okay, not that long ago, but back then having parents (who could barely speak to each other) smiling together in graduation pictures was bizarre. But you were young (or numb) and treated it as an annoyance, not life changing.

However, twenty-five years have passed, and now your child’s graduation is coming. Planning for the big event is goes well until the Ghost of Graduations Past shows up.

A slideshow of memories flash through your mind. There’s the embarrassment when your boyfriend’s parents met your dad, mom, and her husband. They’re all smiles, but the awkwardness felt like a steel ball in your stomach. Of course, their smiles later melted into glacial stares resulting in social courtesy so strained, it sent you scurrying from your party to somewhere less tense. It was “no big deal” at the time, but now anger brews over the unfairness you feel being forced into a position like that.

The specter’s next memory is of “the call”. The one responsible for the tepid relationship between you and your dad. The conversation announcing how, because you were 18 and new priorities had arisen, no college money was coming. The Ghost’s work is done now. All you can think about is how hard it was to get through college and how unfair it felt.

Now it’s happening again!
No need for the Ghost of Graduations Future to show you how your child’s event is going to play out. Dad with wife number two, Mom with current boyfriend, and step dad number one have accepted the invitation your child sent them. You know what’s going to happen, because it’s happened already. The question is, are you upset because of your discomfort today, or triggers from 25 years ago?

Triggers remind us of past events, but create an emotional response in the present. The frustration of our graduation creates “rose colored glasses” through which we see our child’s graduation. We project our experience onto their event. This can hide the real reasons we’re more quick-tempered as the event approaches.

Many of us deny we’re angry about events in the past, but words like “frustrated”, and “annoyed” are close cousins to anger. So, what can we do if graduation triggers are producing anger in our lives?

  1. Acknowledge this graduation is reminding you of your own. Stop pretending it’s something else.
  2. Identify specific issues you were upset about then, but didn’t share with anyone. Write them down if possible.
  3. Pray about them with God. The Psalmist wrote, “I pour out my complaint before Him.” (Psalm 142:2, NLT)
  4. Share them with your spouse or a close friend.
  5. Enjoy your child’s graduation. Regardless of how everyone acts, try to look at the graduation festivities through your child’s eyes. They’re probably oblivious to the drama.
  6. Meet with someone after the graduation and share your thoughts and emotions. Talking about it is a powerful way to avoid building up anger and anxiety.

The Gift of Peace (Not Hating Christmas Anymore)

Sleep in heavenly peace…sleep in heavenly peace.1

When I hear adults with divorced parents describe Christmas and families, heavenly peace rarely tops the list. Hassle, aggravating, sad, confusing, disappointing, draining, and annoying all make the list, however.

A popular phrase is, “Well, we have to go here, then we have to go there, then we have to go there...,” and it’s always preceded by a heavy sigh. Christmas brings to the forefront all of our divorce-related losses.

But if we’re not careful, the pain of loss becomes a dark secret I’ve heard multiple times—I hate Christmas. Maybe we don’t say it out loud, but it floats around our mind. Unfortunately, our real heart’s cry is for a peaceful holiday. If parents could just get along…start-of-bethlehem-nativity-by-garrett-w-30

So if you’re secretly waiting for Christmas to be over, I encourage you to revisit the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of the Prince of Peace.

The one who brings true peace
1) Peace was in Jesus’ character description before he was born.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”2

2) When Jesus was born, peace was in the good news the angels proclaimed:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”3

3) Jesus is peace and desires to give us peace.
Jesus said, “”I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.4

Is peace really possible?peace-ornament-by-john-attebury
Regardless of how frustrating things may get with spouses, parents, stepparents, in-laws, ex-in-laws, siblings, ex-siblings and the extended family, Jesus offers His peace in the craziness. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”5

God wants to give you the gift of peace—peace in your heart, peace in your mind, peace in your spirit—not the peace the world gives, but true peace that only God can give through His son Jesus.

Click here to learn how you can accept the gift of heavenly peace God offers. It may not make the infighting, choosing sides, unforgiveness, and other fractured-family dynamics go away, but you will have supernatural peace amidst it all.

My prayer for you is you’ll receive the wonderful gift of peace from Jesus; not just for Christmas, but for all of the new year!
“May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way.”6

 

1Silent Night, Franz Xaver, Joseph Mohr
2Isaiah 9:6. ESV
3Luke 2:14 ESV
4John 14:27 NLT
5John 16:33. NIV
6 2 Thessalonians 3:16 ESV
Images
Start of Bethlehem Nativity by Garrett W
Peace Ornament by John Attebury

What do ACOD’s Think About Life, Marriage, and God?

Elizabeth Marquardt

Here is a powerful video by researcher and ACOD, Elizabeth Marquardt. She wrote “Between Two Worlds” and whether you are “religious” or not, Marquardt offers a vivid view of the lives of adult children of divorce. Click the link below to watch the video.

I’d also be interested in your thoughts. Does she capture the ACOD experience? Could you relate to the ACOD in the video?

Between Two Worlds: The Spiritual Lives of Children of Divorce

Do You Want to be Healed?

My last blog looked at four types of adult child of divorce. For those in the Deluded, Denied, and Determined camps the next question is: Do you want to be healed?

This seems like an odd thing to ask until you look at a situation a man faced when approached by Jesus. Jesus was walking through an area where many sick, blind, lame, and paralyzed people gathered. He approached this man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years and asked him, “Would you like to get well?”1 This seems like a no-brainer question, but is it?

Exercise by Oregon State University croppedEvery New Year’s Day people make a commitment to change—lose weight, be more organized, quit smoking, argue less, etc. But days or perhaps weeks after they start, defeat comes. They quit and reboot next year on January 1st. We’ve all experienced this, but why? As blunt as this sounds, we have no resolve.

When we show resolve, “a definite and serious decision [is made] to do something.”2 In our context, when asked, “Do you want to be healed?” the real question is, have you resolved to overcome the issues your parents’ divorce created or are you content to dabble in healing?

Jesus is asking you,Do you want to enjoy your holidays and other family occasions? Do you want to stop hating your Mom or Dad? Do you want to stop sabotaging your relationships and not knowing why?” What’s your answer?

Divorce nightmare adultchildrenofdivorce.netThe wrong response is, “I’m tired of the anger. I’m tired of hating holidays. I’m tired of sitting in a room and watching my parents fight. I’m tired of feeling insecure at work and at home. I’m tired of failing in my relationships. I’m tired of seeing the hurt look in my spouse’s eyes when I blow it. I’m tired of never getting better.”

The right response is, “Heavenly Father, I’m willing to humble myself, admit that I can’t do this on my own, and submit to Your authority, power, guidance, and wisdom.” God can bring healing to your heart and mind—when you resolve to be healed.

But are there hidden reasons we don’t want to be healed?

  • Too much work involved.
  • Don’t want to face the pain.
  • We like hating and holding unforgiveness because we think it gives us power over those who hurt us.
  • We enjoy being a martyr since it absolves us have taking the responsibility to change.

Christian Cross 11 by Waiting For The Word croppedI realize I’m being a bit harsh, but aren’t you tired of dreading holidays, weddings, parties or any event where your folks, ex-folks, and step-folks show up? Aren’t you sick of fretting over parents’ new boyfriends, girlfriends or hurtful antics? God can help.

Believe me. I know how hard it is to hope, but God is faithful. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.”Pray that He will strengthen your resolve and guide you into the Determined and Delivered camps today!

 

1John 5:6, NLT.
2http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/resolve
3Proverbs 3:5, NLT

Photos:
Exercise by Oregon State University
Divorce Nightmare – Dreamstine
Christian Cross 11 by Waiting For The Word

Four Types of Adult Children of Divorce

When people ask me what I do it goes like this: “I help adults with divorced parents overcome some of the lingering issues from the divorce, like anger and unforgiveness, so they can have healthy relationships and avoid divorce themselves.” After a polite “That sounds interesting” the conversation comes to a fork in the road.

Step out of yourself by Victoria Nevland croppedPeople from intact-families say the ministry is important and desperately needed. Many share stories of disastrous divorce situations they’ve seen. (It’s amazing how many people have these stories.)

However, individuals from broken homes often raise their defense shields and say very little. Or they’ll comment about how things are going well. Only a small percentage ask questions or touch on their struggles. I think this is due in large part to adults with divorced parents falling into four groups:

  • Delivered – those who really are doing well. Their parents’ break-up has been dealt with in a real, healthy, and ongoing way. They are standing on biblical truth and treating the lies they used to believe as pesky gnats rather than stumbling blocks.  This seems to be the smallest group of the four.
  • Deluded – those who believe they are doing well. A common expression from these folks is, “It was a long time ago and I’m over it.” This belief is fed by TV, movies, and popular internet sites. Unfortunately, they are blind (like I was) Talk to the hand by Matt Foster croppedto the various ways parental divorce can impact our thinking and negatively affect our relationships and marriages. I believe this is the largest group because, if most adult children of divorce really were ok, the divorce rate of those with divorced parents wouldn’t be as high. Also the fear of marriage wouldn’t drive so many to live together.
  • Denied – these know they’re not doing well. They have even connected their troubles to Mom and Dad’s split. But they lack information to overcome (for example) the trust and anger issues they struggle with.
  • Determined – these adult children of divorce are aware of their issues and are actively working to overcome them.

CCK - 'Gunks by G BNow take a moment and honestly assess which group you are in. Would your spouse, friends, or family agree with your answer? I pray you are moving toward the Determined or Delivered group. If the cycle of divorce is to be broken these two groups must grow. The good news is God seeks to help people who want to be delivered.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”1 I’m thankful God continues to work on me. (My wife is too!) However, God wants to work with you too. Will you let Him?

 

1Philippians 1:6, NLT

Photos:
Step out of yourself by Victoria Nevland
Talk to the hand by Matt Foster
CCK – ‘Gunks by G B

Overcoming Regret

Swallowed In The Sea by Kelly B croppedMy mother would say, “Idle time is the Devil’s workshop.” This basically means bored (and unsupervised) people do bad things. While this principle applies to many kids, children with divorced parents are particularly vulnerable because their anger with the divorce can fuel rebellious actions. As a result, many of us have decisions in our past that sting our memories years later:
     sex at a young age 
          drinking with embarrassing or tragic consequences
               lying
                   stealing
                       numbing our pain with drugs or cutting
                           an abortion…or two
                                or starting our pornography addiction.
 But what can we do when regrets race to the surface?

A man who knows regret
Peter the apostle had a major regret—he denied Jesus Christ. Worse, Peter denied he knew Jesus three times in quick succession. Worse yet, he denied Jesus after telling him “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.1 Still worse, after Peter denied him, Jesus turned and looked over at him (Luke 22:61). So after three quick decisions Peter was a broken man and wept bitterly.
 Can you imagine the shame, hurt, and despair from denying his close friend (and the Savior of the world)—after he’d seen countless miracles and walked on the water with him? In some ways, many of us can. Not the denying Jesus part, but doing something (or things) that cause us to wince in shame, hurt, and despair—even years later.

How do we overcome regrets?
Woman and Bible - Prayer a Powerful Weapon by abcdz2000After Peter’s dark hour, he does something Judas didn’t—let Jesus take away the pain of the regret. When Jesus rose from the grave, he told Mary Magdalene (the first witness of his resurrection) “go tell the disciples, and Peter” to meet the resurrected Jesus in Galilee (Mark 16:7). Later Jesus had a heart-to-heart restorative chat with Peter (John 21:15-19).

Jesus wants to have a heart-to-heart with you, too. He doesn’t want you weighed down by past regrets. Start your conversation with Jesus by confessing you messed up and you’re sorry. If an ongoing sin or addiction is involved, repent and earnestly seek God’s healing—pursuing whatever help is necessary. However, confession is key. “If we freely admit that we have sinned, Forgiveness by Tiffany Scantleburywe find God utterly reliable and straightforward—he forgives our sins and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil.2    Once confessed to God, it’s done in his eyes. “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”3

Moving Forward
Peter was able to overcome his regrets by proclaiming the forgiveness and grace God offers to the world—forgiveness and grace he knew from personal experience. Sharing about God’s forgiveness and grace in our lives draws others to the Source of true healing and reinforces God’s goodness in our hearts and minds. This is a powerful and proven way to overcome regrets.

1Matthew 26:33, NLT
21 John 1:9, Phillips NT
3Psalm 103:12, ESV

Photos
Swallowed In The Sea by Kelly B
Peter’s Denial by Robert Leinweber
Woman and Bible – Prayer a Powerful Weapon by abcdz2000
Forgiveness by Tiffany Scantlebury
freedom…! by Kaylan Chakravarthy  50