Runaways and Prodigals June 30, 2015
I think we’ve all run away from something or someone at some point in our lives. Running away sometimes looks like a big, scary, life changing thing like a kid running away from home, or a spouse getting divorced. Sometimes, though, it’s less visible to the outside world. Maybe it’s a worshiper who stops going to church, or a friend who starts neglecting relationships. Maybe it’s a retreat of a spouse into a hobby or non-communication, or an employee who stops trying.
It could even be a blogger who goes six months between posts.
And do you know what all of these scenarios have in common? A feeling of failure. Sure, there are other reasons for any of these things; but I contend that the single biggest reason for relationship breakdowns is a feeling of failure. When the Prodigal Son was jealous of how well the pigs ate, he hit rock bottom and finally returned; but why did he take so long to return? Was it because his plan was working out so well? No, he didn’t want to go home and face his father and brother with his failure. For him to find, finally, the courage to return it took a realization that he had no other options.
Biblical parables reflect real life. Sometimes the only reason a spouse or a kid sticks around is because they have no other option. Sometimes the only reason a worshiper keeps going to church is because he or she feels there’s no choice. And having no choice is better than breaking up the foundation of marriage or faith, but it’s not the best way. The best way is to break the hold of the thing that makes the runner want to run. The best way is to help the runner stop feeling like a failure, or to prevent the runner from feeling that way in the first place.
I have a confession to make. I’ve run. I haven’t left my Charming and Patient Husband (and I have not wanted to, either.) But I’ve been terrible about church attendance. I’ve been terrible about maintaining friendships. I’ve been terrible about blogging. All of these things matter to me, and I’ve essentially run away because I felt like a failure. I have something to learn from them. I also have something to learn from the thing I haven’t ever felt like running from, my marriage.
What I have learned:
- If you feel like a failure and you run away, you feel like a bigger failure. The longer you stay away the more of a failure you feel like. Bite the bullet and return.
- If it’s an unsafe or unhealthy thing you’ve run from, don’t return. That’s not running, it’s rescue. (But don’t con yourself into thinking “I don’t like it, so it’s unhealthy.”)
- Prayer and discernment are always helpful and healthy.
- The key to staying on track with another person is making sure that other person knows that he or she is successful.
- The key to staying on track with another person is making sure that other person knows that he or she is successful. That’s not an editing error. I repeated it because it’s that important.
A friend of mine once said “for every one negative thing you say, make sure you say five positive things.” That was some powerfully good advice, and it goes really well with helping to make the other people in your life feel successful. Or, I should say, know they are successful. Because if they feel successful in their relationships they probably are. Tell your husband what he does right. Tell your wife what you appreciate about her. Let your kids know that you are proud of them, and why.
And finally, what if you are the one feeling like a failure? Go back. If you haven’t gone to Mass in a while, go back. If sitting with one foot in the water hasn’t motivated you sufficiently, put both feet in. And remember, God is with you. The Bible says “Pray without ceasing.” What better time to remember that than when we are struggling?