In the post Mother of the Prodigal – Guilt and Regrets, Pt. 1 I began addressing the issue of parental guilt and regrets in parents of grown rebellious children, including those choosing criminal behavior. The primary point was, clarify responsibilities and act accordingly. Each person is responsible for his own moral choices, so parents must carry their own responsibility for their influence. They must do what they can biblically to repent from sinful influencing of their children. But, they also must not carry their child’s responsibility for how he responds to their parenting. He could have chosen wise responses and if he did not he will give account for himself before God. (This post is a continuation of a series that began under the heading “Mother of the Murderer,” with entries here, here, and here.)
In addition to clarifying what is and is not your parental responsibility, here are three more signposts toward joyful living despite having a child who is a prodigal, or even a criminal.
You can’t forgive yourself.
I know it is common parlance in society to say, “I just can’t forgive myself,” and for others to tell regret-filled people, “You have to forgive yourself.” That idea is foreign to Scripture. You and I have no right or authority to forgive ourselves. Our sin is against God (Ps. 51:4). It is He from whom we need forgiveness. If you feel guilty, what you need to do is to confess your sins to God and whoever you sinned against (including, “Will you forgive me?”), and stop doing the sin anymore. God says that “when we confess our sins He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
If you still feel guilty for that for which you confessed and repented, then you are not believing what God says in 1 John 1:9. Confess your unbelief and, trusting in His grace of forgiveness, turn your mind to the next responsibility (do the next thing). Refuse to bring it to mind again.
If you feel guilty for something that wasn’t a sin, confess the sin of holding a standard that isn’t God’s, put off your standard and put on loyalty to God’s standard, then stand firm in that freedom (Gal. 5:1).
Don’t keep looking back.
Maybe you keep second-guessing your past parenting. “If only I had…” “If only I had not…” Perhaps you berate yourself. Don’t you find that frequent brooding on past failures is discouraging and hinders you from thinking about God and others?
Regrets can be a form of penance or self-punishment. Both are unacceptable to God. Christ already took the punishment for sin, having died “once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). Salvation in Christ is by grace, not works (Eph. 2:8-9).
We can follow Paul’s example given in Philippians 3:1-14. After repenting his self-righteous past, he chose to forget what lies behind and press on toward the goal of knowing Christ and growing in Christlikeness.
If you have done all that the Bible says to do to repent from your own past sins and to reconcile with your child and all others, move forward in obedience. Refuse to bring the what you regret to mind again. Hunting the forests of the past for game that is long dead through forgiveness in Christ keeps you walking in self-focused circles.
If you’re worried that you might not have dealt with all past sins, ask God to show you any sins you still need to confess, then move forward trustingly. If He doesn’t bring them to mind, don’t disbelieve God and go hunting in fields He declares empty.
Don’t keep trying to figure out what went wrong. Figuring out is a form of trying to control in order to change something. You can’t change the past. You can only make a choice in the present. After you examine the past biblically,
- Mark the lessons learned.
- Trust that God ordained all of your past, including your own sins, using it all for your good.
- Then press forward, pursuing godliness in the now you can affect.
Choose to rejoice.
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3). Whether the trial is from circumstances or is self-induced, God planned these trials for you and did so for good reason. Knowing this, it is right that we rejoice even when suffering; it expresses trust in God and contentment with His plan.
Does rejoicing seem impossible? One hindrance for many parents is making their happiness dependent upon the child. When the child does well they are happy. When the child disappoints they are sad, anxious, or angry.
Our children must not be where we set our happiness. Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children…yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27). In other words, in comparison to our love for God, love for any family member must be like hate. When we love God above all then our happiness is dependent upon the unchanging God, not upon a child who has a will to do what he wants regardless of his parent’s happiness. Only Christ is totally, overflowingly sufficient for our happiness. “The nearness of God is my good” (Ps. 73:28). Oh, what a good good His nearness is!
Willful rejoicing doesn’t deny or suppress sorrow. It isn’t an either/ or situation. Hope can coexist with sorrow. Sadness and joy can both be simultaneously in the human heart. So even while you experience sadness, be actively filling your heart with chosen joy and gratitude to God. Sorrow may rightfully have a place, but in a heart filled with gratitude and praise its place will be small and it won’t have room to grow and dominate.
If we love Christ, we find our joy in Him even when our hearts break over the children we love. “The nearness of God is my good” (Ps. 73:28).