“Children who mistreat their father or chase away their mother are an embarrassment and a public disgrace.” – Proverbs 19:26 NLT
A rebellious child. Nobody plans for one. But they also don't just happen. At the same time, there is no magic elixir or five-step strategy that will guarantee you won't have one. While we must do all we can to discipline our children while they are young and attempt to raise them in a godly atmosphere, there is no assurance that our children will never stray, never disappoint us or never become an embarrassment and a public disgrace. While our children are young and pliable, we must do all we can to teach them the truth of God's Word and model for them the life of wisdom and righteousness that God desires. But as our children grow older, they also grow increasingly more independent, until they reach that inevitable point at which they must determine and decide their own faith and what they are going to do with all that they have been taught. What happens at that point has as much to do with their personality and the way they're wired than anything else. Two children raised in the same home by the same parents and under the same set of rules can turn out completely different from one another – solely based on their personality profile.
Every day, countless parents ask the pain-filled, guilt-ridden questions, "Where did we go wrong?" "What could we have done differently?" "How could we have prevented this from happening?" No doubt, there are always answers to those questions. There are inevitably some things we could have done differently, better, or not at all. None of us are perfect parents. We make mistakes. We sin against our children. We overlook some sins in our children and overreact to others. We are inconsistent and non-perfect parents. But there are those times when our children turn out differently than we had hoped our dreamed, not so much because of our shortcomings as parents, but because of choices our children have made along the way. That is why Solomon cries out to his sons to listen to his instruction. He begs them to listen to what he is trying to tell them about wisdom and the life of righteousness. "If you stop listening to my instructions, my child, you will turn your back on knowledge" (Proverbs 19:27 NLT). "Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life" (Proverbs 19:20 NLT).
But ultimately, every child must come to the point where they begin making their own choices and deciding what it is they believe. They must choose to listen to all that they have been taught and begin obeying it, not because they have to, but because they want to. Their faith must become a choice of the will, not an act of submission to their parents' wishes. Watching your son or daughter choose to reject the faith you have tried to instill in them is a painful thing to endure. It is gut-wrenching. The word "mistreat" in this verse is probably a poor choice to convey the thought behind the original Hebrew word. It means, "to devastate, ruin or violently destroy." This pictures a son or daughter who does some serious damage to their father. It could be financially, physically or even just emotionally. They devastate their father. Their actions bring him down, knocking the props out from under him. And they end up chasing or driving away their own mother. They want nothing to do with her. And as a result, they become an embarrassment and a public disgrace to their parents. How difficult it is to have to watch your children live ungodly lives in front of all who know you. Their lifestyle is in plain view of all and a constant reminder of what you could easily interpret as your own failure as a parent.
But at the end of the day, we must place our children in the hands of God. We are stewards, and not their saviors. We cannot make our children godly. We cannot make them righteous. All we can do is teach them the truth of God's Word and model for them the life of faith and godliness. But ultimately, they will have to choose for themselves. They are free-will creatures who must one day choose God and accept His will for their lives. Many do, but some do not. Like the father of the prodigal son in scripture, we must continue to pray for them, looking for their ultimate return. We must turn them over to God and ask Him to do what only He can do. Only He can soften their heart and convict them of their rebellion. Because their sin, while painful to us as parents, is ultimately against God, not us. They are rejecting Him, not us. And only God can restore them to a right relationship with Himself. Nothing is impossible for Him.
Father, parenting can be a blessing, but it can also be hard work. There are times when it is difficult and things don't turn out quite like we expected or wanted. Give us the faith to trust You even when things look dark and our children appear to have rejected us. Help us to recognize that their rebellion is against You and only You can restore them. Give us faith to trust You with the lives of our children, even when they don't turn out the way we planned. Amen.