Karilee Hayden •
Christmas season is upon us once again—and for the majority of families, it’s a time of joy and celebration: family gatherings; nostalgic traditions; the sharing, in love, of carefully chosen gifts. Happy music fills radio air waves and shopping malls. People bustle through stores aglitter with sparkling lights and decorations, to enjoy shopping and an occasional indulgent cup of flavored coffee, hot chocolate, or a frosted cookie or two. A spirit of festivity and goodwill permeates the air—and this is especially true for those who truly understand the reason for the celebration: We are commemorating the birthday of Jesus Christ, God’s Son— Immanuel, who came to earth more than 2,000 years ago to offer salvation by His sacrificial death for our sin. Thus, we sing with joy and gratitude: “Joy to the world! The Lord is come!”
Yet, amidst this season of merriment, some people are dealing with intense emotional pain. Their hearts ache deeply; their eyes brim with tears in remembrance of former happier, carefree days. Many things in life can bring hurt and sorrow, but our topic here focuses on parents of prodigals—whose children continue to spiral downward in alcohol or substance abuse . . . or continued poor choices . . . or, whatever. Fatigue daily overwhelms these parents as they seek to make sense of life. They are “holding-on” by the thinnest thread of hope.
Yet, some parents must deal with an even more excruciating and daunting trial. We’re speaking of families who are forced to confront the most difficult challenge of all: the early death of a beloved son or daughter—accidental death, drug overdose, or perhaps even suicide. For these families, especially at Christmas-time, the holiday arrives unwelcomed. Each day is an ugly package shrouded in black wrapping paper and chock-full of hard moments: waking up in dread of facing the day; pain triggered by well-meaning comments of friends; overriding grief that bubbles to the surface as others laugh and have fun; an emotional roller-coaster of past memories filtering into each moment.
Teen Death and Suicide
For months I’ve put off writing this article. It’s a difficult, heart-rending topic: teen death and suicide. Yet, the topic came to our attention early this year, 2013—“Do you think, prodigal children go to heaven when they die?” the letter asked. Subsequently, the subject arose several more times throughout the year, with a number of teen suicides and accidental deaths coming to our attention. Compounding the problem is the fact that many times the untimely death occurred during the height of rebellion, so guilt and second-guessing swirled amidst the grieving hearts. Could I have done anything to prevent this? Why didn’t I see it coming? Did something I said or did trigger the suicide or death? Has God turned His back on me? Will I ever experience joy again?
The answer to the parent who asked the above question concerning heaven, held a silver lining. This mother’s child had professed Christ as Savior four years before her death; and thus we could assure the mother that her child was now in heaven. The Bible tells us that every person who truly believes (John 3:16), is assured of eternal life. Instantly, at the point of belief and confession of sin, the repentant seeker becomes a child of the King, Jesus Christ. He or she is “born” into the family of God (John 1:12, 13), and no one (not any other person . . . not themselves . . . nor even the devil) can “pluck [snatch]” that child from God’s hands (John 10:28-29). That is a fact. And that fact offers enormous comfort to parents of children who have professed Christ, yet die in a rebellious state.
We need only to look at the example of natural-born earthly sons and daughters. When our children are born, they cannot do a thing to change that fact. They cannot simply decide they no longer want to be our children. How many parents have heard an angry child spit out vitriol: “I hate you . . . I wish I’d never been born . . . especially to you!” Those hateful words don’t change the fact—he or she will always be your child.
With few exceptions, earthly parents’ love for their children never ceases—even when a child does hurtful, rebellious things. We may not like their actions, but we do love them deeply. Greater still is God’s love—it is unconditional and everlasting. The wonderful assurance, then, is this: A child of God is always loved. And he or she is forever God’s child, no matter what . . . even if that child’s life ends in violent death or suicide.
Here is the caveat—the warning. It is so important to pray earnestly for the salvation and/or return of those whom we love, but who continue to live in rebellion. When a loved one’s actions show no fruit of the Spirit we cannot be sure of their salvation. Only God knows their heart.
I just finished reading a book written by a man who, in his younger years was wild, ungodly, profligate, and at one time was, in fact, a hardened criminal. After a near-fatal accident, God drew this man to Himself in a miraculous way, and he turned to Christ. But even after his salvation, he continued to battle sinful thoughts and behavior. It took many years, but eventually God’s hand of mercy and protection, and His hand of discipline, and His allowance of further hardship and painful experiences taught him the value of obedience and created within him a desire to serve Christ.
My point is this: after this man became a believer, had he died before “conquering” his violent temper, alcoholism, and sinful ways, he still would have entered heaven’s gates. He was God’s beloved child, even when his life manifested unruliness and lack of discipline.
So this is our hope and our mission. As parents (and grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles) we need to diligently display God’s Word through our words and our lives. We bear the responsibility to ensure that our prodigal understands the way to Christ (by faith alone –Ephesians 2:8-9). We should gather together with like-minded parents to uphold our prodigals at the throne of grace in continued, fervent prayer every day. In an increasingly depraved and violent world, our Almighty God—Immanuel—is greater than any sin—and more powerful than the most hardened and depraved heart!
Finally, for those dear families who have experienced the death or suicide of a child or muchloved relative, we would direct you to another web page for encouragement and hope. Several years ago our friends, Pastor Jimmy and Linda Knott, faced the agony of their son Jeremy’s suicide. Their transparency in sharing their heartache has been inspiring and refreshing to many. On their website you will discover great encouragement: videos of a television interview concerning their journey through grief and pain. They speak of lessons learned as they faced doubts and grief head-on, ultimately discovering God’s grace and love to be sufficient in their heartache. Go to: www.jandlministry.com – Click on the tab, “Teaching.” There you will find helpful and encouraging videos, such as “Coping with Grief”; “He Stills the Storm”; and “Finding Meaning in Loss”.
GOD BLESS YOU!
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? HOPE in God; for I shall again praise him. – Psalm 42:5 (ESV – accent added)
WISHING YOU GOD’S ABUNDANT HOPE AND PEACE THIS CHRISTMAS SEASON
AND IN THE YEAR TO COME