Pursue Certification by the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors

Early in 2020, my pastor asked me to give personal testimony to encourage our church members to get certified by the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). Below is the script that guided my testimony, edited a bit.

(By the way, biblical counseling is not just an American phenomenon. See the note at the end of this post.)

When I began training in biblical counseling, counseling was the last thing on my mind. I would never do that. What I wanted was the theology and I wanted to know how it applied practically to problems in living. In other words, I wanted to know the Bible better and know God better. I also believed if the Bible is able to equip for every good work, then the Bible must have the answers for problems I was facing. Training in biblical counseling gave me all of that and much more. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

I started training with beliefs I did not know were contradictory. For example, I believed that the Word of God holds sufficient counsel and simultaneously that it doesn’t address psychological problems like bipolar or panic attacks. I found that, on the contrary, the Bible shows us bipolar people. It describes panic attacks. It provides solutions for both, and all other emotional/psychological problems. The biblical counseling training deepened and broadened my understanding of the Bible, then drew lines of implication connecting this Scripture to this problem and that Scripture to that problem. Scripture contains all the truth we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3).

The Bible explains why we do what we do and how to overcome problems. It explains why I had been unable to stop a life-dominating sin and how to, after all, stop that sin. Training taught me how to make decisions biblically rather than by listening in my heart. I had been told that due to genetics and chemical imbalance I would have to be on an antidepressant for the rest of my life. Application of this training enabled me to overcome longterm depression and suicidal thoughts. After five years of taking an antidepressant, biblical changes enabled me to get off of it. I now have been free from depression and antidepressants for over 15 years and counting. Training in biblical counseling radically changed my life.

Along the way, my teachers kept telling me that we can counsel others. Well, it may be changing my life significantly, but I am far from qualified to speak into someone else’s life. Counseling is for the professionals. But Romans 15:14 says, “and concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able also to admonish one another.” (The “goodness” is Christ’s given to a believer and the “knowledge” is in the Bible.) That was written to regular Jane Doe Christians like me! Would I believe the Bible? Would I believe that, using the Word of God–not my experiences and what worked for me–using the Word of God in dependence upon the Spirit, I might actually be able to help someone like my teachers had used God’s Word to help me?

Training in biblical counseling taught me how to understand people as well as Scripture, then how to find the content in the Bible needed for their problems and, importantly, how to help them implement that content. It helped me learn to love people. Overall, ACBC training deepened my walk with God and equipped me to be of more effective service to the church than I otherwise would be.

I realize that counseling one another biblically does not require a certificate. After all, the Word of God is our counsel and Paul said that a believer, rightly handling the Word of God, is able to counsel others. However, we are also told to be equipped, which requires training and study.

I also realize that people do not have to counsel in a formal way like I often do. Many counsel informally, in less intense discipleship relationships. I do, too. But regardless of how you interact with people, training for certification will show you how doctrines relate to the practicalities of relationships and emotions. It will help you understand the biblical way of change, which ups your game on your own growth in holiness. As for others, you do already speak into others’ lives, if only in casual conversations. We all do. ACBC training provides an effective means of equipping church members to do so more biblically than they otherwise might. It can make you more effective, which will add to your joy and the growth of your church and the glory of God.

I encourage you to consider training and certification by the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.

Here is a two-minute video on the process.

Here is a broad overview of the Pathway Through Certification.

Special Note: After training, there are two exams and supervision. After all, this is a certification organization, so they must have a standard by which to certify an individual. Remember, all of the process is intended for your betterment for the glory of God, not just for meeting a standard. So the exams are pass/rewrite, not pass/fail. Therefore, consider the exams not as a hurdle but as part of your training, not as a have-to but as a get-to. Everyone involved wants you to succeed and will help you.

For citizens of countries other than the United States: By the way, biblical counseling is not just an American thing or a Western activity. The Bible was actually written by non-Westerners. The Bible transcends countries, languages, and cultures. And so, biblical counseling–counseling the Word of God to people–is a world-wide church activity. Training in biblical counseling has spread to many countries. Please contact ACBC for referrals to resources in your country.

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Letting Go: Rugged Love for Wayward Souls

What do we do with loved ones who reject and walk away from us? We usually think of prodigal children, but it could be a sibling or an unfaithful spouse. The pain of loss is agonizing.

Letting God: Rugged Love for Wayward Souls speaks to this kind of relationship, not so much on the front end of working to reconcile, but on the back end after attempts to reconcile have proven futile. Authors Dave Harvey and Paul Gilbert talk about when the most helpful choice is the choice to let the person go.

The authors do well at painting the picture of what it is like to live with someone who is personally irresponsible, victim-minded, demanding independence, and threatening to leave. the wayward person won’t listen to others, demands his own way and manipulates to get it. He doesn’t carry out his responsibilities while making excuses and insisting it is you who are in the wrong. A congenial relationship is possible but only on their terms–when they are in the mood. 

Harvey and Gilbert explain the Bible’s label of these people, “fool.” The chapter, “What the Wayward Want” is helpful for understanding the drive underlying the behaviors.

  • The wayward wants choices without consequence. He wants no unpleasant consequences for any choice and has convinced himself that his expectation is reasonable and realistic. By “realistic” I mean that he thinks his right corresponds to reality.
  • The wayward wants autonomy without accountability. He wants freedom, and freedom entirely on his terms. He wants to rule his own life and indulge in his desires while not held accountable for what he does. Rejecting responsibility, he is also rejecting both reality and the duty of love.
  • The wayward wants leaving without loss. He wants to be able to leave loving relationships and abandon roles and responsibilities, yet keep the blessings he has been enjoying. In other words, he expects others to maintain the same loving attitude toward him no matter what he does toward them. He should not feel the discomforts of loss or hardship.

How do loved ones tend to react? Among the many unhelpful ways, those that tend to perpetuate the prodigal’s foolishness are appeasement, enabling of the sinful behavior, and taking on shame when one is not guilty. In other words, loved ones tend to cooperate with the wayward person because they don’t want to lose him. This is idolatry, loving the person or the relationship more than God. Parents, spouses, and girlfriends are especially vulnerable.

How do we best love a prodigal? The authors use the term “rugged love,” meaning a love that is strong enough to do what is right no matter how you feel and no matter what the wayward person does. That includes stopping the effort to keep him, stopping the effort to get him to change, and instead letting go. Keep in mind, this measure comes after months of work at reconciliation and right relationship-building. It is not a matter of washing your hands of the person, but of releasing the person to his choice and its consequences and preventing yourself from idolatry of relationship and sinful manipulation to make the relationship what it is not.

How do you know when to let go? The authors offer a short list on page 118 which helps with discernment. For example, “Is this person endangering himself or others?” “Have those responsible for or married to this person lost the capacity to curtail or contain their comings and goings?” Does the prodigal no longer listen to you? Does he steal substantially? Is he deceitful? Honesty is a non-negotiable; dishonesty forfeits the privilege of living in your home.

The authors emphasize that you continue to show love, but you do it without enabling the prodigal’s sinful ways. As a reader, I would like to have seen a bit more about what this actually looks like.

Chapters 9 and 10 on shame and fatigue will be of great comfort to those who have let go of a beloved, manipulative, wayward rebel. The authors don’t just note shame and fatigue; they do a pretty good job of describing it in a way that resonates. Taking the reader to the cross through the eyes of Hebrews 12:1-3, they connect the reader’s experience with what Christ endured and how He dealt with the shame and fatigue of what rebels did to Him.

Letting Go ends on a note of encouragement to stand strong in faith in Christ.

Wayward children and adults are highly skilled at getting loved ones to cooperate and facilitate with their foolishness. So while prodigals are completely responsible for their choices, loved ones also need to examine themselves regarding what they have done to contribute to the problem. Have you, for years and/or recently, stepped in to save him from consequences? Have you enabled his selfishness by excusing his irresponsibility and often doing for him what he fails to do? Among the many changes you need to make, one might include letting go. Let God manage him. You will find this book helpful.

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Resources for Parents of Wayward Children (including prodigals and criminals)

What is a parent to do when her teen-aged or young adult child goes off the rails, so to speak? The child is unruly, wayward. Another common label is “prodigal.” The wayward child disrespects parents, rejects parental authority, even defies commands, but doesn’t hesitate to manipulate and cooperate for selfish gain. Your wayward child is making foolish and destructive choices. Perhaps he runs away, causes trouble both inside and outside of the home, indulges in substance abuse and/or breaks the law. You may or may not have parented in godly ways. You may have tried everything you know to rectify the problem and establish a good relationship. Still, your heart is broken by the waywardness of your child. I would like to recommend a few biblically well-grounded resources.

Parenting and Beyond

When Things Don’t Go as Planned,” chapter 10 in The Faithful Parent: A Biblical Guide to Raising a Family,” by Martha Peace and Stuart W. Scott. This book is geared primarily to the child-rearing years, but the principles and attitudes it teaches and the appendices will prove helpful.

P&R Publishing: The Faithful Parent
CBD: The Faithful Parent: A Biblical Guide to Raising a Family: Martha Peace, Stuart Scott: 9781596382015 – Christianbook.com
Amazon: The Faithful Parent: A Biblical Guide to Raising a Family: Martha Peace & Stuart Scott: 9781596382015: Amazon.com: Books

You Never Stop Being a Parent: Thriving in Relationship with Your Adult Children, Jim Newheiser and Elyse Fitzpatrick

P&R Publishing: You Never Stop Being a Parent
CBD: You Never Stop Being a Parent: Thriving in Relationship with Your Adult Children: Elyse M. Fitzpatrick, Jim Newheiser: 9781596381742 – Christianbook.com
Amazon: You Never Stop Being a Parent: Thriving in Relationship With Your Adult Children: Elyse Fitzpatrick, Jim Newheiser: 9781596381742: Amazon.com: Books

Letting Go: Rugged Love for Wayward Souls, by Dave Harvey

What do you do when someone you love leaves? Here is help for your perceptions of the situation and how to respond.

CBD: Letting Go: Rugged Love for Wayward Souls: Dave Harvey, Paul Gilbert: 9780310523536 – Christianbook.com
Amazon: Letting Go: Rugged Love for Wayward Souls: Harvey, Dave, Gilbert, Paul, Paul Tripp: 0025986523534: Amazon.com: Books

The Parent Herself

Parents’ Groans over Their Ungodly Children, by Edward Lawrence (1623-1695), MA, sometimes Minister of the Gospel at Baschurch, in the Country of Salop, England. You may be alone in the immediate time, but you can be comforted that you aren’t unique in having the experience of a wayward child. Over the centuries godly parents have suffered heart break over children who reject them.

Chapel Library: Parents’ Groans Over Their Ungodly Children – Chapel Library

Forgiveness: “I Just Can’t Forgive Myself!by Robert D. Jones. Parents may be feeling guilty, making them at risk of buying the common deception that we should forgive ourselves. Dr. Jones addresses this well and redirects the reader to a biblical view of the problem that effectively resolves the lack of peace in the heart.

CBD: Forgiveness: I Just Can’t Forgive Myself: Robert D. Jones: 9780875526782 – Christianbook.com
Amazon: Forgiveness: I Just Can’t Forgive Myself (Resources for Changing Lives): Jones, Robert D: 9780875526782: Amazon.com: Books

Uprooting Anger: Biblical Help for a Common Problem, by Robert D. Jones. Parents of prodigals and criminals have many temptations to anger. Here is very practical help founded on truths from the Word of God.

P&R Publishing: Uprooting Anger
CBD: Uprooting Anger: Robert D. Jones: 9781596380059 – Christianbook.com
Amazon: Uprooting Anger: Biblical Help for a Common Problem: Robert D. Jones: 9781596380059: Amazon.com: Books

“Handling Parental Heart Responses” chapter 15 inParenting the Difficult Child: A Biblical Perspective on Reactive Attachment Disorderby Lind J. Rice. While this book is written primarily for parents with difficult children still in the home, children wayward in heart, this chapter was written for parents whose children have left the home as well as those still in the thick of parenting.

Amazon:  Parenting the Difficult Child: A Biblical Perspective on Reactive Attachment Disorder: Rice, Linda J.: 9780985043131: Amazon.com: Books

 

Posted in Mother of Difficult Child, Mother of Prodigal/Criminal, Parenting, Child-rearing | Tagged , , ,

Common excuses for prodigals and criminals, and a solution-based view

This post continues a series originally directed at mothers whose children have gone wrong to an extreme. Although originally focused on mothers of murderers, I have widened the field to include prodigals also. Why do maturing children turn prodigal or criminal? Before getting to some positive applications (next post), I’d like to address some misunderstandings.

In a mistaken attempt at compassion many people hurry to excuse rebellious children. “It’s just a phase. Don’t be so hard on her.” They even excuse criminals. About one young school shooter a person next to me exclaimed, “How could anyone do that?! He must be mentally ill.”

While well-intended, these excuses avoid the problem. Therefore, they lead away from solutions. The issue is important because how you view your child’s behavior affects the influence you exert.

What the Problem is Not

My child’s problem is low self-esteem. This illogical assessment is made by many, both family and unrelated observers. The opposite is true. Someone who verbally abuses others is ranking self higher. Someone who steals values his desires more than the needs of others. Someone who would presume to kill is exalting himself so high he assumes a right to destroy human life. Someone who rebels or acts selfishly to any degree cares most about self. He loves himself supremely. That is high self-esteem.

I have to learn the hard way. That’s just the way I am” (said by a felon). What this really means is that he is determined to have his own way until the price is higher than he wants to pay, and don’t you dare suggest he can actually change. The word “learn” is just a sleight of tongue, so to speak. He really doesn’t ever learn to love what is good. He gets you to lower your expectations.

He’s been bullied. This shifts blame, avoiding culpability. The reality is, no one forced him to steal. God promises to provide a way to not sin (1 Cor. 10:13). To those not just bullied but severely persecuted Peter said, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin” (Heb 12:4). If obeying the law really meant enough to the criminal he would be willing to suffer rather than break it.

He has a mental illness. The mind (mental) stands in the moral realm, not the physical. A brain can be physically sick, but a mind is not physical so it can’t be sick or ill. Murder is not mental illness; it is sin–a moral issue. Thievery is sin. Lying is sin. Disobedience to parents is sin.

But my child is basically good; he just makes mistakes.” Mom, I know you don’t want to think ill of your child but this is selfish as well as blind. Will you tell your child’s victim the crime is a mere “mistake”? Murder is not an oops. Neither is rape or property destruction or shop lifting or disrespectful speech.

The Bible says “there is none righteous, no not one.” We automatically think well of ourselves, so the passage reiterates, “There is none who does good.” But I… No, “…not even one.” That means, not even your precious child. (Rom 3:10-12)

It is true that by God’s grace there is a tainted human goodness. As Jesus said, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matt. 7:11). Yet, note Jesus’ label for those giving good gifts–“evil.” Is Jesus harsh?

What the Problem Is

If not mental illness, why do people commit crimes? Jesus, known for His compassion, answers, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries…all of these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:21-23, emphasis added). The prodigal or criminal chooses what he does because he wants what he wants for his own selfish advantage.

“What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?” Great question, right? James answers, “Is not the source your pleasures [desires] that wage war in your members? You lust [desire] and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious [desire] and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:1-2). Why do young people rebel, right, and even murder? To satisfy selfish desires.

Considering the evil in the human heart the question isn’t “How could anyone do that?!” but why aren’t there more shootings?

Hope and Help

Take sin seriously. Would you have a doctor hide the truth of cancer from you? Pretending your child is better than he is will disarm you of the tools and motivation you need to speak help him. Much as it hurts to see it, your prodigal/criminal has an evil heart. Blaming mental illness lacks compassion and demotivates because mental illness is not a sin to be forgiven, merely a disease to be cured–and there is no cure. Instead, the Bible offers real hope for change because it teaches that people harm each other due to sin–and sin can be forgiven. This is why the truth of sin is not downer but a reason for hope! Only by the presumption of a sin nature and hell to pay will you tell him of his sin, tell him the gospel hope that God can transform his heart, and urge repentance.

Put on compassion. We tend to grow angry when sinned against, including when our children shame us. Why have compassion? First, although you have been sinned against we, too, have a sin nature. Our child’s anger may have shown in action, but you have been angry in heart, if not in deed. The difference is in degree, not in kind. 

Second, one who is a sinner is also blinded by his sin, self-deceived. He is enslaved to sin and doesn’t know it. While he is entirely responsible for his choices, he is also enslaved to them. He needs the mercy of God to open the eyes of his heart. (Eph. 4:18; Prov. 5:22-23)

Third, remember that he has sinned against God far more than against you, and he will have to give an account. Have pity considering what he will suffer on earth and in hell if he doesn’t change. Put on compassion that leaves no room for resentment (Rom. 12:17-21; Col. 3:12).

There is overflowing hope in the gospel. The gospel isn’t an add-on. While sufficient, it isn’t just sufficient. It is overflowingly sufficient, offering abounding hope.

While the bad news is that we have all sinned and earned the wages, eternal hell, the good news is that God sent His only Son into the world to pay for sins by His death on the cross, “that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” It isn’t that God simply forgives without justice being satisfied; then He Himself would not be just. The penalty must be paid. So God sent His Son to pay it. Jesus came, paid with His life, and rose again to prove that justice was satisfied.

Still, not everyone is forgiven or there would be none in hell. The one who would be forgiven must confess his sins and repent from them, trusting in Jesus alone for salvation. God will give him a new heart that wants to obey God. How? No prayer, baptism, or good deeds can gain merit for heaven. Salvation is by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Tell your child both the bad news and the good news. Urge him to repent to God. (John 3:16; Rom 3:23; 6:23; Eph. 2:1-9; John 14:6)

Don’t reassure your guilty child of meaning well or of “goodness” acceptable to God. After all, if he is “good,” there is no need for forgiveness. True love faces the fact of sin and evil in a person, and offers God’s solution. But if there is no willingness to confess and repent then he hasn’t taken the solution and there is no true heart change (1 John 2:3-6). His eternity is at stake. Gently warn, “You will have to give an account to God.” Urge him to repent before he suffers more. 

If he says he did wrong, don’t hurry to reassure. Instead, agree with him. He did do wrong and it does him no good to minimize it or buy you off with a pretense of repentance. Help him take it seriously.

We parents don’t like our children to be unhappy, but the fact is relief from guilt feelings is not what he needs. He may still need the those feelings. Proverbs 28:17 says, “A man who is laden with the guilt of human blood will be a fugitive until death; let no one support him.” Why would God consign someone to experience nagging fear (fugitives run away) until death? Guilt, with its attendant fear and shame, is intended to motivate repentance, and repentance will save him eternally and save from much trouble temporally. Repentance will resolve the fear because the guilt fear will have accomplished God’s good purpose for it. 

If there is no change, don’t “support him.” Don’t get in God’s way by soothing guilt before there is repentance. Let your child’s conscience torment him until he repents. If he repents, then and only then, and by all means then, console and help him learn godly ways. Hoping for true change, be looking for further signs of true repentance.

Standing on the side of the law is NOT betrayal of your child. God gave government for the limitation of behaviors that harm self and others (Rom. 13:1-6). If he breaks the law, call the police! Do so not for revenge but to protect all involved and to uphold justice for God’s glory. Again, as Proverbs says “let no one support him,” don’t save him from consequences that restrain him. If you love him, stop him from harming others and from living a lifestyle that leads to his own premature death. Thinking your child is above the law IS betrayal–betrayal of your neighbors, of your child, and of God.

Dear mom, it is right that you love your prodigal, even the child who has chosen criminal activity. Love him by taking a biblical view of him and his deeds. Moms who see the evil for what it is can, with compassion, provide in the home the corrective discipline and instruction that the child most needs with eternity in view. Or, if the child lives out of the house, a mom with a biblical view can refuse to enable more sin, refusing to shield from consequences that will, if God wills, bring him to his senses. Love him by upholding the civil law, authority, and love for neighbors. Love him by speaking the truth of his sin and the gospel. Love him by loving God more than you love him.

Posted in Mother of Difficult Child, Mother of Prodigal/Criminal, Parenting, Child-rearing, Suffering, Adversity, Teens, Pre-teens | Tagged , , ,

Mother of the Prodigal – Guilt and Regrets, Pt. 2

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).

Posted in Mother of Difficult Child, Mother of Prodigal/Criminal, Parenting, Child-rearing, Suffering, Adversity | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Mother of the Prodigal – Guilt and Regrets, Pt. 1

A prodigal is a child who leaves home in rebellion and later returns to restore relationship. We often call them prodigals before we see the restoration.

This post is set in the context of a series. Here, here, and here I described some of what the mother a prodigal at the extreme of criminality (murderer) might experience and a few ideas for how she can deal with it. While this post continues the theme it generalizes to any degree of prodigality to include a broader range of moms.

Two of the important issues for these moms to deal with are guilt feelings and regrets, or second-guessing. It is not unusual for good parents of wayward children to wonder, “What did I do wrong?” Or they self-accuse, “I must be a bad mom.”

Pressure might be added by the common misinterpretation of Proverbs 22:6 that how a child turns out is directly attributable to the parents. This view is so common that even if she was a good parent (and some parents of criminals are), she wonders if people would believe it.

It is important to handle guilt feelings biblically because guilt feelings can mislead us. For example, some parents try to assuage feelings of guilt by refusing to provide consequences or by giving the irresponsible child money. Parents reassure the offender that he/she is basically a good person and just made mistakes or has a mental disorder. While such parental penance can temporarily improve the parents’ feelings it cannot earn forgiveness for the child or parent.

How shall we resolve guilt feelings in a God-honoring way? I will highlight one critical action in this post, two in the next.

Clarify responsibilities.

While I have no intention of excusing parents for their failings, it will save much unnecessary guilt feelings and guilt-motivated foolish choices if they distinguish between responsibilities–theirs and their child’s. Deuteronomy 24:16 says, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.” The point is, each person is responsible for his own moral choices. 

The child is entirely responsible for his/her actions. Ephesians 6 begins,

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother…

Note that the command in Ephesians 6:1-3 is given to children, not to parents. Parents are not responsible to make children honor and obey from the heart. That is the responsibility of the child.

Many criminals are raised in broken, abusive, or neglectful homes which model selfishness and incite children to anger. Some are raised in loving, wise homes. Cain and Abel had the same parents, yet one chose godliness and the other chose to murder. Ezekiel 18 provides five case studies showing that a well-parented child may choose to live wildly; a poorly-parented or abused child may choose to be law-abiding. Whatever the case, “the soul who sins will die” (Ezek 18:4, 20). In other words, each person is responsible for his own moral choices. 

Therefore, no matter what parents do, the child has no right to blame them for his own choice to disobey God. He is responsible for his own behaviors. A mother is not responsible for a child’s choice to break the law. She must not shoulder guilt not hers to carry.

However,

Parents are responsible for their influence. Ephesians 6:4 commands,

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” 

Parents are responsible for whether they live in a way that provokes a child to anger or do godly discipline and instruction–i.e., for how they influence by modeling, discipline, and teaching.

What about Proverbs 22:6? It says,

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

A little more literal to the Hebrew this verse says, “Dedicate a child upon mouth his way…” In other words, if allowed to go the way he says he wants to go the child will practice foolishness and selfishness into habits. The author presumed that children influence themselves, and that foolishly. Proverbs 29:15b also assumes a child’s self-determination

But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.

The essential lesson of Proverbs 22:6 is that habits built in youth continue into adulthood. This includes habits of hidden desires, thoughts, and attitudes the child determines to practice.

While parental influence is extremely important Proverbs 22:6 does not teach that parenting is determinative. Children are not just blank slates or malleable clay in your hands. They possess wills of their own corrupted by sin. Some children of loving, wise parents secretly cultivate ungodly desires and attitudes that become apparent only when the child is old enough to have the courage to act on them in opposition to parents. Unless God intervenes, the Proverbs 22:6 principle of habituation will hold true. A child’s self-practiced habits of heart will continue and will override godly parental influence. A child’s lifestyle as an adult depends upon the habits of desires and thought the child chooses to practice.

Parenting is influential, not determinative.

How does clarifying responsibilities deal with feelings of parental guilt?

  1. Determine for what you are legitimately guilty and deal with it God’s way.
  2. Determine for what you feel guilty but it is not your responsibility, then turn from (repent) taking on guilt that is not yours.

Deal with valid guilt. Maybe you did not parent well and some of your influence tempted your child to develop habits of anger and rebellion. Although culpability for his own sins or crime rests on the child, you are certainly culpable for your sinful influence.

What does God say to do about valid guilt for sinful parenting? Repent. God promises forgiveness through Jesus Christ to those who genuinely repent to please God.

Confess to God first, then your child. Name your faults specifically–not “sorry for what I did,” but “I yelled and I was wrong.” “I let a man abuse you and I was wrong.” Name your sins honestly with no excuses, evasion, or blame-shift. Ask for forgiveness–not “I apologize” but “please forgive me for yelling. Please forgive me for neglecting you. Please forgive me for_____ (how you sinned against your child).” Then, trusting God for forgiveness, diligently walk forward in changed ways obedient to the Bible. Living out God’s way of handling guilt, past sinful influence on your part need not be a road to despair.

What about guilt feelings over what is not your responsibility? Maybe you are a parent who basically (not perfectly) obeyed the Word of God with loving instruction and loving, consistent discipline. Yet your child chose to rebel, or commit a crime, or even harm others. Not all parents of prodigals or criminals are guilty of poor parenting. Just look at God and His children.

To feel guilty over what is not sin is to live by your standard, not God’s, and that in itself is sin. Repent from your standard and live by God’s. About those He forgives He says, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and righteous to forgives our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Believe what He says and refuse to take on guilt that is not yours.

In summary, clarify what is your responsibility. Deal with it God’s way. Trust God with all else.

In the next post I plan to share a couple more insights on dealing with regrets and guilt feelings stirred up by a prodigal or when a child commits a crime. 

Posted in Mother of Difficult Child, Mother of Prodigal/Criminal, Parenting, Child-rearing, Suffering, Adversity | Tagged , , ,