A few years ago, my family and I went on vacation to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We spent a week exploring the different shops and having new adventures. My wife and I believe vacations are times to relax, unplug, and have new experiences together. That formula works well … usually.
In Gatlinburg, we first went zip-lining as a family, now a family-favorite activity. We also experienced white-water rafting for the first time.
There were two options for our rafting trip: Raging Rapids River for Heroic Adventurers and Fluffy Bunny Creek for Novices and Families of Small Children. We chose Fluffy Bunny Creek. We geared up, listened intently to our guide, then set out on the mountain river.
Our guide was a young man about 20 (let’s call him Gareth). He put us at ease and provided clear instructions in his calm, confident voice from the back of the raft. At one point the river slowed way down, and we came to a stop.
“Ok, who wants to go for a swim?” asked Gareth.
“We do!” shouted my 6-year-old son and my 8-year-old daughter.
So they jumped out of the raft.
I should tell you that Fluffy Bunny Creek might be an introductory white water river, but it is also an actual river…that flows … constantly. My 8-year-old was immediately ready to get back into the raft due to the cold mountain river water. So we reached out and pulled her back up. My 6-year-old son, meanwhile, had started drifting away.
I vividly remember the look we exchanged when we realized he was out of my reach.
I panicked. My son has never been a fantastic swimmer, having been traumatized by near drowning in a friend’s pool when he was two. I’m not a great swimmer myself, only learning to swim as an adult and never getting comfortable with water over my head. In that moment I looked calm on the outside, but I was a wreck on the inside. I watched a river take my son beyond my reach into water I was sure could kill me too.
Maybe you’ve had similar experiences with a child. You gave them enough freedom to jump out and have their own adventures, their own experiences. You tried to give them advice as they did so, hoping it would be enough to spare them. Then you watched as they floundered, failed, and fell. Sometimes they would bounce right back up. Other times they were broken and lost, beyond your reach.
It reminds me of the story Jesus told about a father having to let his son go. In the story starting in Luke 15:11, a young man asks his father for his portion of the inheritance. In Jesus’s day, that was tantamount to telling your dad you wanted him dead. It was scandalous and disrespectful, but
the father agreed and turned his son loose on the world with a bag full of money.
But the son was a fool, squandering the great gift of wealth his father had given him. Rather than investing it, he spent it lavishly. What started as a springboard for his future turned into a shovel for his grave. The son was lost.What started as a springboard for his future turned into a shovel for his grave. @chipmattis Click To Tweet
As a father, this story breaks my heart.
Why didn’t the father refuse?
Why didn’t he try to talk sense into his son?
Where was the wise counsel or the desperate plea not to go down this path?
They’re decidedly absent—Jesus says nothing about these things. There must be a reason.
The heart of a parent is in constant turmoil over a child’s readiness. We don’t want to be helicopter parents, and we don’t want to ignore real dangers in the world. So what is Jesus telling us about the heart of our Father?The heart of a parent is in constant turmoil over a child’s readiness. @chipmattis Click To Tweet
I see two lessons here:
First, timing is never perfect. No matter how ill-prepared the child or controlling the parent, there is a time when the child is beyond our reach. One day, Mom, you’ll wake up and realize your baby boy is making male decisions or your daughter is acting older than she is in years. Accept the timing however it happens.
As a dad, I try to control situations. It’s easy when the kids are little. I put matches on a shelf they can’t reach or I use passwords on the computer. I put barriers up. But as they mature, barriers become more difficult. Do I make the barriers insurmountable or do I teach my kids how to decide for themselves? The father in Jesus’s story didn’t put up barriers. He turned his son over to his own decisions, but he never shut his son out.
That’s the second lesson—the door is always open. The cool thing about the story of the Lost Son is that after spending every coin, the son came to his senses. Sitting in the mud and muck of a pigsty, he realized he had a home with his father. So he got up and began the long way home rehearsing his apology. Then in Luke 15:20, the most beautiful thing happens. The father, having waited so long to have his son back, saw the young man in the distance, and with the same scandal the son left with, he hiked up his robe and ran to meet his son in the kind of hug only a parent can understand.
It’s a hug that said—
I love you!
I missed you.
I’m so glad you’re safe.
We have to leave the door open for our kids. After all, God leaves the door open for us.
As I watched my son drift away from me, I prayed the holiest prayer I could muster.
And then my wife calmly reminded me I had an oar in my hand. As I stuck the oar out, my son grabbed hold, and I pulled him back to safety.
I’m sure there will be more times like this. I’m sure I’ll be afraid of my kid making bad decisions, hurting themselves or others, or even dying tragically. All I can do as a dad is to turn them over to God and leave the door open for them to come back.
In the meantime, I’ll lean on the wisdom of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr who prayed:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Have you ever been afraid as a parent? How did you handle it? Please comment below with your thoughts.
This post was based on Luke 15:11-32, The Parable of the Lost Son. You may read the scripture here.
Chip Mattis, Contributing Writer
From the time he was small, Chip loved to read and write. He wrote poems for his grandmother and songs for himself. As a sophomore in high school, Chip won a contest to have a poem published in an anthology of U.S. high school poets. It was a seminal moment.
A few years later, Chip was admitted to the collegiate poetry and short story club, Scribblerus. He was dedicated to the purpose of the club: to read and critique others’ work in the club and submit works for critique by others. They met every week, and the honing of his craft began in earnest. He graduated magna cum laude from Greenville University with a BA in Philosophy and Religion.
Chip attended the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference in 2018 where he was awarded the Foundations First Runner-Up for Best Children’s Picture Book. His debut book, Under the Dancing Tree, from Elk Lake Publishing will be in stores in March 2019.
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