Loving through Great Restraint

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons.  The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’  So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.  So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.  He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’  So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick!  Bring the best robe and put it on him.  Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’  So they began to celebrate.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field.  When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on.  ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in.  So his father went out and pleaded with him.  But he answered his father, ‘Look!  All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.  Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

  • Luke 15:11-32

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

  • Luke 11:11-13

Have you ever had your child do something that was really bad, at least on your lists of things not to do?  Maybe he or she did it multiple times after being told to never do it again?  Then, you muttered to yourself, “One more time, and I’m gonna kill him/her.”

Come on!  Be honest!  If you have not said it out loud, you may have thought it.  I’m not saying that you have picked out a spot in the backyard for the grave.  No, not that far.  Just that first fleeting thought.  Then a moment of restraint, because you really love them.

I used to say it out loud – to my sons, but they had heard the joke and knew that I did not mean it.  Bill Cosby may have done some bad things, but he was funny, and a good observer.  He was talking about parenthood and he said that fathers were different than mothers.  His father had established his relationship with his son when Bill was seven years old.  His father said, “Listen, Son.  I brought you into this world; I can take you out!”  I would say that to my boys.  They would laugh, but then they knew that they had irritated me long enough.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my boys, and my boys were reasonably good boys.  But quite often, I would tell them not the do something or to drop what they were doing to do something else.  They would pretend that they did not hear, but when that game was no longer fun, they would look me right in the eyes and do what I told them not to do again – and smile.

My two sons are in their 40s.  One has grown children.  I can, still today, close my eyes and see that smarmy grin on their faces, and rage builds up within me to where I want to slap that remembered smile into orbit.  “To the moon, Alice, to the moon!”

If you do not know what I mean, you have not had children.

My wife talked to someone recently who is having problems with a grown son, who has a son of his own.  The problem is that the son has been in trouble off and on since and during high school, all because of the friends that he hangs out with.  Now with a grandson to worry about, they started getting more actively involved in helping their son make the most elemental of decisions.  Of course, this led to confrontation.

The son said, “You don’t love me.  You never have!  I once heard Dad say that he was going to kill me and bury me deep in the backyard, that a shallow grave was how most folks got caught!”

My wife asked at this point in the conversation, “Did you remind him that he was still living and the fact that he is still breathing means that his Dad loves him?”  The other lady said, “Yeah, and that’s when he threw a fit and stormed out of the house.”

Okay this friend’s husband sounded like he meant it.  He thought it through.  I never went that far, but we both, as fathers, had it come to our mind.  “I brought you into the world, I can take you out.”  At times, being a father requires great restraint.  When you have bailed your son out of jail twice within the same month, and then he argues that you do not love him, because you do not trust him, what are you to do?  Maybe next time, do not bail him out of jail?  Maybe he needs more time to think it over.

I’m not saying bailing someone out was the trouble this boy had, but when it comes to that, how do you respond?  The Ward Cleaver type of father would speak in calm soft words and explain things very carefully.  The Homer Simpson type would grab his son by the neck and squeeze until his son’s eyes popped out of his head (in typical cartoon fashion).  Most of us fathers are somewhere in between.  It takes great restraint to be a father.  The old joke when asked if you’ve ever thought of divorcing your wife, you reply, “No.  Murder?  Countless times, but never divorce.”  That applies to the children, but the thought passes quickly.  Restraint is needed in the meantime.

There are two Scripture passages from Luke above about fathers.  The Parable of the Prodigal Son is the first one.  I like Timothy Keller’s book, The Prodigal God. He explains how a ‘prodigal’ is one who lives lavishly.  While the son basically told his father that he wished he were dead and took his inheritance early, then living lavishly, it is the father who first continues to look for the son’s return, then lavishes gifts on his son when he does return.  The father in the parable is our Heavenly Father.  He is portrayed in the character of God, giving the son his inheritance and then quickly forgiving the son upon his return.  But if that father had been one of us humans, with our own sin nature, it would have hurt us to the deepest part of our being to be cast aside by a son who wished us dead.  There might be a lecture that accompanied the money – probably causing the son to live even more riotously just to show us that he could.  But, having had my sons move far away from us, I would hug them and forgive them if they truly returned.  But I am still waiting for that moment when they make the supposed Mark Twain quote come true (some scholars cannot find it in his known writings – only as a quote attributed to Mark Twain).  “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”  Our younger son has almost doubled the 21, and he may not be antagonistic, but he does not admit that I have learned anything.  And he comes a lot closer than his older brother.

And as for the second Scripture, I never gave my children snakes or scorpions.  I tried to teach them how to avoid both.

When the boys were children and whenever I got home, my wife might say that I had to deal with one boy or the other, sometimes both.  I would have them go somewhere in the house where I could not see them.  I got all the information on the infraction of the rules.  I then discussed with the guilty party what was wrong, often suggesting ways to improve.  And then the punishment came.  It took all this for me to not be angry when the punishment phase commenced.

The Bible often mentions the wrath of God.  Counting “wrath of God,” “God’s wrath,” and “wrath of the Lord,” the NIV has about 85 mentions of one or more of these phrases.  Many people who claim to be Christians ignore those parts, because if we were God, with our moments of anger, we would be like the Ken Davis joke.  Ken Davis pretends to be God, with his loud God voice, and he says, “Ah, there is little Ken, having fun.”  Then after a long pause, he stomps his foot and says, “NO!”  But God is not us.  He does not have a sin nature.  God is holy.  His anger and wrath are not borne of that sin nature.  He has perfect restraint.  And He placed in our hearts that restraint, and nearly all of us use it.

But it is tough when a son overhears words that they were never meant to hear.  And I pray that as they work hard to be loving fathers themselves, those sons never have to think those thoughts, even for a fraction of a second, about their sons.  But sin is still in the world.  Someday, and it could be soon, we will love with a perfect love and sin will be no more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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