Here Comes the Son

Here Comes the Son


More Blog Graphics (3)


Herb Stricklin, M.S.


One thing that is certain in life is that if a person tells you something once, it might be interesting. If they tell you something twice, it might be kind of important. If they tell you the same thing for a third time, they are making it clear that they want you to understand what they are telling you. Such is the case with Jesus where in Luke 15, He tells a similar story three times, in three different ways to tax collectors and sinners, as well as the “less than enthusiastic” Pharisees who are listening in as well. In Verses 1-10, Jesus shares the stories of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, but with these, He was just getting warmed up. When He gets to the story of the Prodigal Son in Verse 11, He is really getting His message across.

aaron-burden-287555All of the stories deal with the joy of something lost being found, and the celebration that ensues when this occurs. But in the third version of the storyline, Jesus goes into much greater detail. In doing so, not only does He reinforce the earlier message, but He also provides a perfect template for managing difficult relationships. As a therapist, I have found this to be immensely useful to the clients with whom I work. Let’s take a little time to build a simple model, and then we will get back to the topic of relationships.

On the first day of meeting with a new client, I will share with them a simple theory that I find both portable and applicable to many circumstances. The theory is called Locus of Control. It speaks to things in life that we can control (Internal Locus of Control-our own thoughts, feelings, and behavior), and the many things in life that we cannot control (External Locus of Control-basically everything else). Most of you will recognize this as living your life according to the Serenity Prayer (God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change {External Locus of Control}, the courage to change the things I can {Internal Locus of Control}, and the wisdom to know the difference). This simple concept is a cornerstone for many recovery programs, and it flows perfectly into understanding relationships and boundaries. In healthy relationships there is a clear boundary separating people, an invisible line where one person ends and the other begins. There is an exchange of information, but it involves offering support, making suggestions, and occasionally involves caring confrontation. In healthy relationships, each person is afforded the room to manage themselves in a way they see fit. In unhealthy relationships, we see blurred boundaries, with people attempting to adjust their own behavior to try to influence or control another, for either well-intended or sometimes self-serving reasons. Now, with these simple basics of healthy boundaries established, let’s loop back into the story of the prodigal.

george-hiles-137158So in the parable of the prodigal son we see the wayward young son blatantly insulting his father by asking to “cut to the chase” and turn over his half of the inheritance now, before the father has passed away. This is a tremendous insult to the father, and by some interpretations, it even insinuates a wish that the father were no longer around. How does the father choose to handle this situation? If he were like most of us, he would be telling his son where he could put his rude request. But this father doesn’t. This father actually agrees to grant the request, affording his son the opportunity to exercise his free will. The son collects his belongings and new found wealth, and heads off to the distant land where he subsequently spends all he has on debauchery. Then we learn that hard times hit the land where he is, and he finds himself in need, basically he is starving. It is so bad for him he takes a job feeding pigs (probably the worst job imaginable for the time), and he finds himself even being envious of the pigs he is feeding. If this were in movie form, we would definitely see the scene cut to the father, who hears of his son’s painful situation, and is in anguish over his son’s circumstances. By all accounts, the father is still well off, even after giving half of what he owns to his youngest, and if he truly wished to do so, he could send his hired hands out to retrieve this son, bring him back, and place him in the most well deserved “time-out” of all time…but he doesn’t. He allows his son to experience the pain of his sin, and when the son is at the end of his ability to endure that pain any longer, he humbles himself, and returns to his father to ask to become a hired hand. The father’s response, as we know, is to reinstate the son’s status, much to the son’s delight and surprise. And all of this amazing outcome is the product of the father’s willingness to contain his own impulses and urges to rescue his son, and give him another, in what would probably be a long list of well-intentioned, but highly ineffective lectures on proper living. The father makes the difficult choice to seemingly do nothing and, as Psalm 46:10 tells us, “Be still, and know that I am God”. The father simply needed to leave the door open for the son’s return, not under any terms, but only if his son repents, and agrees to be part of a healthy relationship and to live a healthy lifestyle.

matese-fields-233175Each of us, at some point in our lives, has experienced the three roles featured in this story. There are times, especially in our youth, where we may be the prodigal. We know better than everyone else, and no one is going to tell us what to do. There are times when we are the older brother (part of the story that often sees little attention). We are mired in things that are “not fair”, and we cling to our feelings of bitterness and resentment as we conduct our own personal protest over the matter. Most importantly, for the purpose of this article anyway, are the times when we find ourselves in the role of the father. This may be a situation where a spouse, a sibling, a friend, or even our actual child heads down a path that is unhealthy and sinful. We have shared with them our thoughts and our concerns to no avail. We may find ourselves agonizing over their choices or lifestyle, and everything in us wants to do what we can to show them the error of their ways or somehow get them to do what we think they should. It is during these times when we hold back our urges to “fix” it ourselves, and respond in prayer (for ourselves and for the other), allowing God to do His work. This is what God does with His children each and every day. He affords us free will, and often we choose poorly. And while he does intercede in situations as He sees fit, for the most part He waits, hoping that we return to Him, humbled and seeking forgiveness. I wish I could say that following this plan of waiting and praying always leads to a happy ending, but sadly it does not. It does allow us an opportunity to follow His plan, however, and to have faith. And when it is His will that the prodigal returns, humbled, and thirsting for a life that is genuine, it is truly a thing of beauty and a time for joyous celebration.



stricklin_herbHerb Stricklin, M.S., LCPC, is responsible for attending to the training needs of the clinical staff at Timberline Knolls. He is also in charge of coordinating outcome measures to help objectively measure performance throughout the company. Herb has been in the mental health field for nearly 30 years. He has worked as an adjunct instructor at Joliet junior College for the past 26 years. Most recently he was a Care Advocate with United Health Care. Herb received his Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Loyola University of Chicago. He went on to earn his Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Benedictine University.