The Painful Path of a Prodigal: Kindling Affection

“I love you Dad.” The words spilled readily from my son’s lips, but a reply did not quickly flow from mine. His call was yet another attempt to manipulate us to get money he undoubtedly would use for drugs. My hesitancy was not because I questioned my love for him. Rather, it arose because at this moment I did not feel much affection for him. The constant lies. The continual efforts to manipulate us. The efforts to make us feel guilty so we would do as he asked. The threats of bad things that were sure to happen to him if we did not fork over the cash. These made our hearts weary of his calls. His glib expression of love seemed hypocritical.

Those with offspring immersed in a destructive lifestyle will inevitably struggle with periods where they lose affection for their son or daughter. Siblings, spouses, and children of prodigals may experience the same loss of affection. We dislike—and are even repulsed by—what he has become. Sometimes it seems as if another has possessed both body and soul of our loved one. The ugliness of his life and behavior dulls warm feelings that were once so strong. This reality can itself produce feelings of guilt. It is hard to be affectionate toward one who has embraced a lifestyle offensive to the One you love most.

Parents who have never known life with a prodigal will likely recoil at the words written above. They may wonder how any parent can lose affection for their offspring. Believe me, it happens. If you have not known the depths of degradation of life with a prodigal, it is understandable you would view a loss of affection to be unthinkable. However, when your child has become a stranger, the link to the adorable past is hard to sustain. It takes a conscious effort to love, instead of becoming apathetic or bitter towards them.

How does one sustain or recapture affection when your prodigal is driving your affection to the deepest recesses of your being?

Nothing will dull your affections for something or someone more quickly than focusing on their unattractive elements. Be cautious about lamenting to one another the latest foibles of your prodigal or recalling those of the past. Reviewing the sinful ways of your prodigal will drive a wedge between your heart and the affection you should have. 1 Peter 4:8 reminds us that “love covers a multitude of sins.” God’s love covers sin through the offering of his son. Christians cover sin by forgiving and forgetting, which would exclude rehearsing.

The admonition to forget is not a call to extinguish the existence of the events from your mind so as to never recall them again. Instead, it is a call to no longer dwell on the matter or give it a place of prominence in your thoughts. It is also a call not to use the painful events in your child’s life as a filter through which you judge the circumstances of your life. Wouldn’t rehearsing your prodigal’s painful episodes contradict this call?

How you think about your prodigal, in terms of the things upon which you meditate and verbally rehearse, will influence your affection for him. Do what you must to kindle affection through right thinking and actions. Since affection is an expression of our emotional selves, the specifics will vary with the individual.

Continued in The Painful Path of a Prodigal: Biblical Help and Hope for Those Who Love the Wayward and Rebellious by Craig K. Svensson.

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