Forgiveness and Unconditional Love
About the Guest
Parenting requires forgiveness and unconditional love. So says Phil Waldrep, founder of Phil Waldrep Ministries in Trinity, Alabama, on today's broadcast.
Parenting requires forgiveness and unconditional love.
Forgiveness and Unconditional Love
Phil: The other day I received a letter from a gentleman, and he said, "Phil, you tell me that the only hope for my prodigal child is for me to love him unconditionally." He said, "But before you tell me that, hear my story. My son, who really was addicted to drugs, murdered my parents, his grandparents."
Bob: Wow, and welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. We're going to hear some counsel today for parents of prodigals. This is actually Part 2 of a message that we've been listening to this week, Dennis, from Phil Waldrep. Phil is a speaker from Decatur, Alabama. He is married and has two grown daughters.
This is a powerful message that speaks right to the situation a lot of parents are facing if they're raising a prodigal son or a prodigal daughter, and I think this message also provides some hope.
Dennis: And because it's so good, we're cutting to the chase and letting them hear the bulk of what he had to say.
Bob: We've already heard this week as he's talked about the fact that parents of prodigals need to learn to live guilt-free in their Christian lives. You don't need to let the prodigal's waywardness destroy your joy and your service. But I know some of our listeners are thinking, "But I think maybe some things I did led to my child veering off and wandering from the faith," and Phil addresses that in Principle Number 2.
Dennis: And that principle is you need to ask forgiveness from the child you have offended, your unconfessed offense may be the thing that keeps your prodigal away. You are going to enjoy this message, and if you know a friend who has a prodigal son or daughter, give them a call and tell them to listening to FamilyLife Today right now.
Phil: [from audiotape.] When I talk to some prodigals, they will tell me something a parent, a grandparent, a brother, a sister, a friend did, and they'll said, "You know, they know they did wrong, but they just cannot admit it." You need to ask your child or the prodigal in your life for forgiveness.
I get so amazed sometimes, even when we need to ask the Lord to show us maybe where we have offended a prodigal, and we're not even aware. In fact, I sometimes get a little amazed at people who take complex problems, and they're really so simple, and they can't really see the obvious.
A man came to me recently, and he said, "You know, I know there's a barrier between me and my son, and I just don't know what it is, and I just don't know how to find out what it is."
And I said, "Well, let me make a suggestion. Why don't you ask him?" He said, "You know, I didn't think of that." And I thought, "That's rather obvious to me. If you want to know what the barrier is, ask them."
I have a pastor friend who is a wonderful man, and his son is a pastor. So in that classical sense, he's not a prodigal, and I think that needs to be made clear, but one day the elder was talking to me, and he said, "Phil, I know you're good friends with my son, who is also a pastor," and he said, "You know, we have this strange relationship." He said, "Even though I'm very proud of my son, I'm very proud of what he's doing, he has a wonderful relationship with his mom, he has a wonderful relationship with his siblings, but there's a barrier between us. I mean, when we're together, it's obvious there's a wall between us, and I have wracked my brain trying to find out what it is, and I just don't know what it is. Do you know what it is?"
And I said, "Of course, not. I don't know what the barrier is." And he said, "Well, I just don't know how to find out what it is." And so I said, "Well, why don't you ask him?" And he said, "Do you think that's wise?" I said, "Sure, if you think there's a barrier there, then you need to prayerfully approach him and ask him, and he's a pastor, so he's obviously not in rebellion against God. What it is that's the barrier."
And he said, "Okay, I will." He called me a few months later, and he said, "I need to tell you what happened." He said, "We were grilling hamburgers one day, my son and his family was at our house," and he said, "it was a perfect opportunity. And I said, 'Son, I want to ask you a question.' And he said, 'Sure, dad.' He said, 'you know, you have this wonderful relationship with your mom and your siblings, but there is this barrier between us, and I don't know what it is. So, Son, have I ever done anything that offended you, wounded you, hurt you?'
And the elder father was prepared for his son to say, "No, Dad, you've never done anything, you know, it's just a man thing." But instead he said, "My son looked at me, and tears came to his eyes," and he said, "Yes, father, there was a time you wounded me deeply."
And the elder father said immediately he replayed that child's life trying to find where was it, when did I hurt his feelings, when did I wound his spirit? And he said, "Well, Son, I don't recall there ever being a conflict. Can you tell me when it occurred?" He said, "Yes, Dad, I'll tell you." He said, "Do you remember when you were pasturing" – and he called a large city, and he said, "Yes." "And do you remember that year, as a 12-year-old boy I wanted to play baseball?" "Yes." And do you remember there were so many boys that wanted to play Little League Baseball that year that they divided the teams into American League and a National League, we actually had two leagues within one league." And he said, "Yes."
"And, Dad, do you remember the day that I came by the church, came into your office and said, "Dad, guess what?" And you said, "What?" "I just got word today that I made the all-stars in the National League." And you said, "Well, son, that's wonderful, I'm proud of you." And I said, "Dad, my all-star game is Thursday night. Are you going to come?" And you looked me, and you said, "Son, I really wish I could be there, but I've got a very important meeting at the church, and I need to be here, but I'm sure you'll do great."
He said, "Dad, that didn't wound me. I was accustomed to that." But he said, "What did wound my spirit was the next day when your favorite nephew and I came by the church, and he came into your office and said, "Guess what, uncle, I made the all-stars in the American League," and you said to your favorite nephew, "That's great, I'm proud of you, that's wonderful." And he said, "Well, this next Tuesday night, I've got my all-star game. Can you come?" And you looked at your favorite nephew and said, "You know, I have a meeting Tuesday night, but I'm going to cancel that meeting to be at your game."
And he said, "Dad, you canceled the meeting for him to go to his game, but you wouldn't come to my game." And the elder father, when he was telling me this story, he said, "Phil, I need to tell you that I wanted to give my son an explanation, for that nephew was my sister's son, she is a single parent, he has no father figure in his life, she was having some trouble with his rebellion, and I really needed to spend some time with him to encourage him and maybe influence him, and so my motive was pure, I wanted to help my nephew over some rough water, but in the process of helping him, I wounded my own child." And he said, "At that moment, I started to give an explanation, and the Holy Spirit said, 'No, he doesn't need an explanation, he needs a dad who is willing to admit I made a mistake, can you forgive me?'
And he said, "When I was willing to say those words to my son, that barrier came tumbling down, and he said now we have a wonderful relationship. Now, let me say before I move on, not all prodigals will accept your offer of forgiveness. Some may even look at you and tell you they can never forgive you because sometimes they want to test the sincerity of your asking.
But if you fail to address those issues and those barriers that you've had with a prodigal, believe me, they become walls between that prodigal and their heavenly Father, and you need to look at them and say, "I was wrong, I'm sorry, can you forgive me."
Then if they choose and they say, "I'm not going to forgive you," then at least you have removed the barrier and all the consequences rest upon them, but I have found from many prodigals, it is the inability of a brother/sister, a father/mother, a grandparent, sometimes a friend, to admit a mistake that causes them to stay away from serving God.
So I would say Principle 2 is to ask for forgiveness.
Now, here is Principle 3 – you need to also love the prodigal unconditionally. If I asked you, "Do you love your prodigal unconditionally, and ask for a show of hands, 99 percent of everybody in this room would lift their hand. Of course, we love our children, our grandchildren, the prodigals in our lives unconditionally.
But I find that's easier said than done when we really understand what it means to love someone unconditionally. For example, do you use your love and approval to manipulate the behavior of a prodigal? Do you lead them to believe that you will love them more if they were serving God? Do you leave them with the impression that you would have a great sense of pride in your relationship with them if they were serving the Lord? Or do you let them know that you love them no matter what they do?
Oh, that's hard. Well, let me see if I can show you practically an illustration of unconditional love. Not too far from where I live is a wonderful little country church, and in that church there was a man several years ago who was what you would call a "pillar" member of the church. I mean, he had been a Sunday school teacher, the church treasurer, he had been, you know, every position you can hold in a church and was well respected in the community.
One day his daughter, who was about 15 or 16 years of age, came home and sat down and said, "Dad, I need to tell you something that Mom will not tell you." And she says, "I must tell you, but I need to tell you that I am pregnant." And, of course, the girl was not married. And that daughter sat there and watched her father clench his fists, and he gritted his teeth, and he said, "How could you? Don't you know my reputation in this community? And don't you know my position in the church?" And he began pounding a coffee table, and he said, "How could you? How could you? You have disgraced my name, you have totally humiliated me. How could you?"
And in a moment of anger, he said to that young girl, "You get out of my house, I never want to see you again, I never want to see this child. As far as I'm concerned, from this moment on, you are dead and no longer my daughter. Get out." And she left. The father, by his own testimony, bragged about what he had done. Why, everybody knew he had taken a strong stand against sin in his house.
Why, no daughter of his was going to disgrace his name, and he was proud of what he had done. But in the church where he was a member, about five or six months later, on a Sunday evening, the pastor walked to the pulpit, and the pastor said to the congregation, "I'm not going to preach a sermon today. I want to talk to you as my church family. You're going to hear something within the next few days, and I thought it best that you hear it from your pastor without hearing it through a third party. We discovered this week that our teenage daughter is expecting a child, and she's not married."
He said, "We've cried a lot at our house this week. We've wept at our house. We are so heartbroken over this situation." But he said, "Our daughter has made the decision to have this child, and we're very proud of that decision. We have told her that we will support her during this time. If necessary, we'll help her raise the child," and the pastor looked at the congregation, and he said, "I realize for some of you this may mean that you will demand my resignation. So be it. If it's necessary for me to step down as your pastor, I will, because I'm going to be there for my daughter."
He said, "You need to understand that, as your pastor, I am very ashamed of what my daughter has done, but I am not ashamed she's my daughter." And in front of that whole congregation, he stepped from the platform and went to his teenage daughter and in front of his whole congregation, he embraced her, and he said, "I love you."
Now, would you like to guess this morning which of those two daughters is serving God today? It was the one who had unconditional love. We love our prodigals in spite of their sin. We don't say, "I'm ashamed that I ever knew you. I'm ashamed that you came into our family." No, we are ashamed of what they've done, but we're not ashamed that they are our child or our grandchild or our friend.
You say, "But now, wait, Phil. Doesn't that mean if I love them unconditionally I'm approving their behavior?" Let me ask you a question – when God loved you unconditionally, did He approve your behavior? Of course not. "See, but you don't know what my child has done."
There are people sitting here today, and I don't know this, but I can tell you, in a crowd like this there are people sitting here today who have a child or a grandchild, someone in their family, who is a practicing homosexual, and you're embarrassed. You don't want anybody to know. You may have even told God at times, "I wish they had never been born," or someone in your family who is a prodigal, and they're living with someone, and they're not married, or they're in drug rehab, or maybe that child is an alcoholic, or that child has some kind of addiction, a gambling addiction, but there is something about their behavior that you think, "If people in this room knew, I would be humiliated."
Well, we ought to be embarrassed by their behavior, but could you stand and say in spite of what they're doing and what they've done, I still love them, and I'm still going to stick by them. That's tough. Now, I've got to be honest with you. I thought I had heard it all – letters, conversations, I thought I heard it all.
The other day I received a letter from a gentleman, and he said, "Phil, you tell me I am to love my prodigal child unconditionally." He said, "But before you tell me that, hear my story." And he told me of a drug addict, who was his son, who really was addicted to drugs. And he said, "I had spent almost everything I had trying to help him with his drug addiction," and he said, "Then one day my son, high on drugs, murdered my parents, his grandparents. And you're telling me that the only hope for my child is for me to love him unconditionally."
And I wrote that father, and I said, "Sir, this is a time that I have to tell you what I know is biblical truth, but everything inside of me wants to tell you to disown him. But loving that child unconditionally is what he needs." I said, "Sir, I am telling you it would not be easy for me. I cannot tell you I would do it, but I can tell you this on the basis of the Word of God – if you love that child with unconditional love, you will demonstrate to the world the unconditional love of God. For you never have a greater opportunity to show the love of God than when you love a prodigal unconditionally, and that's not easy."
And with that said, I need to tell you Principle 4 – while you love them unconditionally, you must allow sin to run its course. Loving a child unconditionally does not mean that you rush in every time they get in trouble, and you rescue them. And we often want to fix the prodigal by removing the pain in his life. So if they lose everything to gambling, we want to pay off the gambling debts. If they get in jail, we want to rush to the jail to get them out, and we want to hire the best attorney to do it.
We want to keep removing the consequences, and prodigals, who sometimes are manipulators, will always promise you, "If you'll help me this time, I will never do it again." So here's what I've often told people – it's okay to help the prodigal in some cases, not all cases, the first time. Maybe they really did learn their lesson. Sometimes that happens. But when the behavior is repeated, you love them, you stick with them, you're there for them, but you let them face the consequences of their sin.
If you have someone who perpetually gets in jail, stop bailing them out. But love them unconditionally, go see them in the jail. It's like I'm going to be there for you, I'll go to counseling to help you with your gambling addiction, I will even help pay for the counseling, but I'm not going to pay off the gambling debts.
And, oh, prodigals will tell you you don't love them, and how can you just do that, and they will try to manipulate your behavior, but you see, particularly as parents, we don't like to see our children hurt. We don't like to see the pain come in their life, and so we sometimes rush to remove the pain, and we think if we remove the pain, they'll get better when, in reality, God made ways to use the pain to bring about brokenness in their life.
Bob: Well, that's Phil Waldrep with counsel for parents who have a prodigal, and that last principle, I hear what he's saying, but that's not always easy to do, especially if you're watching your prodigal involve himself or herself in self-destructive behaviors.
Dennis: Bob, the nature of a parent's heart is to rescue their child. There's not a parent alive that doesn't have a heart that wants to protect their children from harm, from evil, from sin. And yet I just have to step in at this point and put a double underline under Principle Number 4 for every parent who is raising a child today – not just a prodigal – one of the most important lessons you can let your children learn is that there are consequences to wrong choices. Don't rescue them. When you rescue them, you enable them. When you enable them, you create an emotional crutch and a spiritual crutch, and you may prolong – listen to me – you may prolong the length of time it takes for God to get your child's attention.
Stepping in repeatedly and rescuing them is dangerous. It's dangerous to the spiritual life of your child.
Bob: This message is one that I think every parent, whether you have a prodigal now or not, it's a great message to listen to together as a couple, to share with a friend who you may know that's going through a difficult time with a child. We have both the audio message and Phil's book on the subject, which is called "Parenting Prodigals, Six Principles for Bringing Your Son or Daughter Back to God," and we also have Stormy Omartian's book, "The Power of a Praying Parent," because when you do have a child who is a prodigal, perhaps the most significant thing you can do is be faithful in praying for that child.
If any of our listeners are interested in getting both Phil's book and Stormy Omartian's book together, we can send along at no additional cost the CD that features Phil's message on prodigals. Go to our website, FamilyLife.com. When you get to the home page, you will see a red button in the middle of the home page.
If you click that "Go" button, it will take you to an area of our site where you can get more information about the resources that are available, Phil's book, the book on praying for your child, and the audio CD of this message, other resources that are available from us here at FamilyLife Today for parents of prodigals, or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, if that's easier for you. That's 1-800-358-6329. So, again, either go to FamilyLife.com and click the red "Go" button in the middle of the home page or call 1-800-FLTODAY, and we'll make arrangements to have these resources sent to you.
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Well, tomorrow we're going to hear Part 3 of Phil Waldrep's message for parents of prodigals, and we're going to hear some ideas on what we can do as parents to remove the barriers that may be keeping a prodigal son or daughter from coming back home. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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