With most schools back in full swing and the big kids away at college, there's a common cry across the land. I hear anguish like this from friends with teenagers and adult children:
"My son doesn't talk to me. I mean really talk to me. I get yes and no answers."
Or "My daughter keeps her life close to her vest. She won't share anything. And they text each other so I don't even hear their voices."
Although at least half of parenting is loving and nurturing, the rest is about letting go. Allowing our children to grow up may be the hardest part. On the other hand, it is the most rewarding. For inspiration on that, Google Kahlil Gibran's poem "On Children" from his book, "The Prophet."
But sometimes, the distance young people put between themselves and their parents lasts a while ... sometimes for decades. How does one cope with the silent treatment or that feeling that the relationship is an uncomfortable, required formality?
With six decades in my rearview mirror, I've discovered that for me the best answers are always in the Bible. How did Jesus manage to offer perspective on virtually every human condition in just three years of public ministry? But he did. Consider the powerful parable of the prodigal son, captured on canvas by Rembrandt. If you know the story, it rings so true to real life it can be frightening and yet it mirrors the mind of the almighty.
For the unfamiliar or those who have forgotten the details, a man has two sons. The younger, an ungrateful upstart, asks his father for his share of his inheritance. Dad obliges and the kid hits the road. In short order, he squanders his legacy on wine and women and ends up slopping hogs to make ends meet. As he salivates at the corn husks that the pigs are gobbling up, he realizes if he goes back home and begs his pop, maybe the old man will have pity and hire him as a servant. At least he won't starve.
So, his homecoming is driven by his stomach, not a contrite heart. Dad sees him coming at a distance and is moved. He runs out to welcome and embrace his son, before the prodigal can say a thing. As soon as the ne'er-do-well gushes his apology, the senior dude orders his servants to scrub him up, dress him in the finest duds with accessories, and slaughter the fattened calf for a party.
Coming in from a tough day in the fields, big brother is stunned at the surprise bash for his punk sibling. Incredulous and seething, he barks at his father, wondering why he would reward this no-good, whoring ingrate and yet never celebrate the loyalty and service of his oldest heir.
And the joyful father responds, "My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found." (Luke 15:31-32)
That's how the famous parable ends. But we can find our better angels by chasing the devil from the details. The family obviously knew about the young son's misadventures. Mom and dad must have ached wondering about his whereabouts and his health. Yet, they patiently waited for contact. They didn't run after him and search. They were on the lookout for any glimmer of hope in reconnecting with their boy. Their doors and arms were wide open ... regardless of what other family members or neighbors had to say.
So much extraordinary advice for any one in any relationship ... but especially for those of us who are pining for contact with a dear one lost on the streets, estranged by an argument or separated by the inability to love unconditionally.
Any parent who feels the cold shoulder of someone they carried for nine months, diapered and rocked to sleep, or raised to adulthood also has a sense of what God feels like when we fail to call home.