While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. Luke 15:20
Usually the question involves situations about them living together with a partner outside marriage, not going to church, involvement with drugs or alcohol, not having their babies baptized and the like.
Over the years, I have come up with my only bit of advice to parents. It does not always work, nor can it always be applied to small children who need discipline, but I have been surprised at how often it has worked with adult children over whom they have little power anyway.
I tell them to “sit on God’s front porch for a while.” This idea comes from the parable I quoted above. We often call it the “Parable of the Prodigal Son,” but it is better called the “Parable of the Loving Father.”
What was the response of the father in this parable to the unwanted, destructive behavior and abrupt departure of his beloved younger son? He sits on his front porch and prays and keeps his eye on the driveway for any sign of him coming to his senses. It doesn’t say how long he waits, but we might recall that St. Monica did this for many years over her wayward son, St. Augustine.
When the son hits bottom, comes to his senses and realizes he has no place to go except back home, he is not met with “I told you so. I hope you learned your lesson. I knew you would come crawling back. You have no idea how much you have disappointed me and your mother.”
It says the father — realizing that his son had come to his senses, learned his lesson, will have to live with the consequences of his bad judgment and does not need to have it rubbed in — welcomes him back with open arms!
He does it without folded arms, cold frowns, thumping feet, piercing stares, but with kisses and hugs. His gushing responses contrast with his older sibling’s pouting, withholding and punishing self-righteousness.
If you have a child, brother, sister or friend who has “been gone” following a path of self-destruction and you don’t know what to do after exhausting all your pleas and offers of help, try “sitting on God’s front porch” for a while. Pray, wait, keep your heart open and be ready to open your arms, no matter how wounded they may be.
When it comes to brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, parishioners and friends, I have always tried to treat them as I would want to be treated — with the love of the father in this parable, with the same love that God extends to me when I make mistakes, choose badly and let myself and others down.
Father J. Ronald Knott