Wouldn’t it be great if our kids would just heed our words of wisdom?  Why is it that life’s most valuable lessons are often learned the hard way? 

Most of us are familiar with the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32, but, how often do we look at the parable from a parenting perspective?  We can learn from the example of the father who recognizes, like our Heavenly Father, that real transformation sometimes requires our kids to travel the painful path of personal experience. 

Let’s recap the story:  A father has two sons.  The first one we meet is the younger, wayward one who rebels against his father’s authority.  He does something that, in the culture of the day, would have been truly shocking – he demands his share of the father’s estate before the father has even died – a request that was tantamount to saying, “I wish you were dead!”  The father, however, acquiesces and divides his estate between his two sons.  The younger son gathers up his money and belongings and travels as far away as he can.  

Free of his father’s influence, he proceeds to waste his entire inheritance in wild living.  He finds himself destitute, his “friends” desert him and a famine strikes the country.  Even worse, the only job he can find is working on a pig farm – something a good Jewish boy would never consider!  As his life spirals ever downward, he finally “comes to his senses”.  Although he no longer feels worthy to be called a son, with all the rights and privileges of that position, he decides to go back to his father to ask for forgiveness and a job.

His return is emotional indeed!  The father sees his son “from a long way off” and “was filled with compassion for him.”  You get the sense that he has been looking, yearning, even aching for this son to return to him for a very long time.  Once again, the father does something shocking.  He picks up his robe and runs to his son, an act that would have been considered undignified and humiliating for an older man at the time.  What a picture – the approaching son, covered in pig slop, being greeted with hugs and kisses from his joyful father!  The son confesses his sin, but before he can even bring up the subject of a job, the father restores him to his former place in the family.  He covers his shame with the family’s best robe and re-establishes his sonship by giving him sandals and a ring.  They celebrate with a party because the son who once was lost has returned!

Meanwhile the older, compliant son remained at home and worked for the father.  When he hears the celebration for his brother’s return, he becomes angry and refuses to join in.  In no uncertain terms, he lets his father know it is he who deserves the party, not his brother, because he stayed home and “slaved” for the father.  He wants what is due him!  The father responds gently be telling him the family wealth has always been his, not because he worked extra hard, but because he is a member of the family.

As Jesus told this story, the father’s behavior would probably have been more shocking to the listeners than that of his sons.  Here are a just a few examples of the father’s unusual behavior: (1) he divided up his estate, even before he was dead, and gave it to his ungrateful kids, (2) he didn’t scold, lecture, order, or nag the younger son about his responsibilities to the family, (3) he let the younger son take the money and run off to certain ruin, (4) he waited and watched for the younger son’s return and, upon seeing him after all that time, ran to him, kissing him and welcoming him back to the fold, (5) he didn’t mention the younger son’s mistakes, and he never once said “I told you so”, and (6) he covered the son’s shame and restored him to his place in the family, even going so far as to have a big party to welcome the rebellious kid back.