By: Dr. Gregory Popcak
The Prodigal Son: The Story
As most of you recall, the parable tells the story of a son who demands his share of his inheritance while his father is still alive. Upon receiving the money, the son retreats to a far-off land where he squanders the money on all sorts of immoral pursuits. Running out of money, the son is forced to work as a pig farmer until he decides that it would be better to be his father’s servant than to continue where he is. He returns home expecting to have to beg to be allowed to be an employee in his father’s household but his father sees him on the road, runs to him, forgives him, and reaffirms their relationship as father and son even to the point of throwing a party for the son who was lost and has returned.
Most people who hear that story cast themselves in the role of the prodigal son. We imagine ourselves as the ones who left our father and who are in need of forgiveness. We experience the story as a powerful witness of God’s mercy and love and we rejoice in knowing that nothing we could ever do could separate us from the love of our Heavenly Father.
Research shows that many children of divorce do not see the story this way.
How Divorce Twists the Story:
Rather, children of divorce tend to cast themselves in the role of the abandoned father. They see their parent as the prodigal son who leaves the family because of some sin. Children of divorce tend to hear this parable not so much as a comforting story of the abundance of God’s forgiveness and love, but as a command to forgive the prodigal parent. As a result, children of divorce often struggle with faith because they are either not ready to forgive that parent or perhaps feel that their faith is commanding them to do something that is not safe (as in the case of an abusive parent).
It’s an eye-opening finding.
I hope that we can do more to help children of divorce step out of the caretaking role and experience that love and forgiveness that comes without cost. Or, better yet, perhaps we parents can work on our marriages a little harder and stop putting our kids in the role of being our emotional/spiritual