I met the talented, award-winning author Rosemarie Fitzsimmons because I needed a hair dryer. I was staying on the cheaper side of campus for the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, and I found out too late that one of the reasons for the lower cost was that they didn’t stock a hair dryer in the room (or at the front desk–I asked. They did have a straightener). I was desperate, so I knocked on my neighbor’s door to see if she could lend one, and the generous Rosemarie did just that. I’m glad I didn’t bring my hair dryer that year, after all, because I love what time I was able to spend with her during the two times I attended Blue Ridge. This humble woman is a ghost writer, writing people’s stories for very little compensation. She has no hope of making a name for herself but instead, of honoring others. She does it well. Her book, Caged Sparrow, won Blue Ridge’s Director’s Choice award for nonfiction. On top of that, she gave me a kind but helpful critique of the Bible study I wrote.
I’m excited to post her words on parenthood. I’ve read the parable of the Prodigal Son countless times, but through her words and the Holy Spirit, I’ve learned something new from it. I hope you do, too. When you’re done, I hope you’ll head on over to her blog: The Portrait Writer.
Let Them Fall: Pondering the Prodigal’s Parent
by Rosemarie Fitzsimmons
In the past few weeks, my youngest learned to walk, joined cub scouts, quit middle school track, earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, canoed 10 days in the Canadian wilderness, dropped the sax to teach himself guitar, mastered the mac-n-cheese béchamel, dated a lovely girl, learned to drive, became an Eagle Scout and turned 18.
I turned my back for five minutes!
So, there he is, my baby, my young man, holding his acceptance letter from Ferrum College, a school in the Virginia wilderness where he plans to study environmental science. On the one hand, I’m pleased that he chose a noble field (and one where he can demonstrate that science and faith in God aren’t mutually exclusive). On the other hand, Ferrum is a four-and-a-half hour drive from home.
From a mom’s perspective, that may as well be China. My pen hovers over the checkbook. The moment I sign this tiny slip of paper to make a down payment, I’ve given my blessing for him to leave.
News flash, moms and dads: that gut-wrenching uncertainty doesn’t end when they turn 18.
How can I allow this, knowing the darkness that lurks ahead? Does God really expect me to help fund his journey into an unknown culture, to a world just itching to lead him astray? A place where he’s sure to make some incredibly awful mistakes?
But God, I won’t be there to help! I ache just thinking about it.
This week, for the first time, I can understand Dad’s struggle in the parable of the Prodigal Son, even though not a word of his thoughts are recorded. How heartbroken Dad must have felt when his boy said, essentially, “I’m done with this place and with you. How about we take the money you’ve saved up and put it toward my education?”
(Well, that may not be what he meant, but then I’ve jumped to the end of the story, haven’t I?)
For some reason, Dad agreed, apparently without questioning the boy further! He didn’t ask if the lad had called ahead to reserve a room, or if he’d packed enough underwear to get him to wash day, or if he’d copied his phone numbers onto paper in case the cell phone died. He simply handed over the money and stepped aside to let the young man pass.
As I read this, I just want to scream at the father, “what part of ‘foolhardy plan’ do you not understand?” He could have prevented his son’s suffering by withholding that money. He had every right to do so. The son would have moped and complained, but he would have stayed put. Protected. Safe. Unchallenged.
And certainly resentful, but that doesn’t matter to a parent who’s protecting a child. We take certain measures for their own good, am I right?
Or is it for our good?
When I think of the Prodigal’s father just handing over his money, knowing his son’s inclination toward irresponsibility, knowing the money would never come back, knowing his son might be seriously led astray or even hurt, something grates on my nerves.
Dad was right to let him go.
The father knew, you see, that obedience without heart is simply duty. He didn’t want his son’s physical well-being, he wanted his son’s all-in understanding and appreciation his father’s love—a spiritual well-being. He knew that to deny his son room for failure would be to deny him room for growth.
We forget sometimes, that this story starts in the middle. For many, many years, the father worked with his boy, taught him right from wrong, trained him to think for himself, to act with honor, to work hard, help others, to honor the family. His son left home with a head full of knowledge and a yearning in his heart.
Not until he fell did the young man look to this foundational knowledge for a way out. Not until he fell did the he truly learn who he was and where he belonged. And not until he fell did he learn that what he’d been yearning for was something he’d possessed all along: a loving relationship with his father.
News flash #2: they aren’t our children.
God entrusted my boy’s care to me for a little while, to train him up and teach him the way he should go. His father and I taught him what we could, and laid a foundation designed to sustain him if he falls.
Now, it’s time to give him back. I must step aside and let him pass, and I must have faith that his foundation will hold. Yes, he may fall, he may get hurt, and, God forbid, he might not return. I’ll have no more guarantee of his safety in college than I do today when he heads out the door. However, he’s in God’s hands, which are much more capable than mine. I will trust the Lord.
But I’ll be watching from a long way off…
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Rosemarie Fitzsimmons is a retired U.S. Marine, wife, and mother of two boys, who blogs as the Portrait Writer and enjoys meeting ordinary people with extraordinary stories. Her award-winning book, Caged Sparrow, is a true story that follows Jesus into prison through the eyes of a tough Buffalo cop who was forever changed by His touch. Follow her blog at The Portrait Writer or via Twitter @pjoy93.