Gilda Rose Kalathil contemplates the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son as a model for parenthood and a reflection of God.
For a long time, the only understanding I had was from Sunday school; the First Person of the Trinity. The man with a long white beard and wise eyes. And any reference to Him in the Old Testament made me feel very cautious of Him. God the Father sounded like a disciplinarian, the one with strict rules, laws, punishment, and severe consequences. He wasn’t someone I wanted to mess with and so I stayed far away from Him hoping to not bother Him unnecessarily. Jesus as a brother and friend was a better relationship to focus on.
Have you felt this way?
Fast forward to college and my deep experience of God’s love. It wasn’t immediate, but it was a starting point of the change in my perspective and understanding of the Eternal Father. I learnt to look at Him through the eyes of His Son, Jesus. Through Jesus’ eyes, He is ever loving and ever merciful. The father in the parable of the prodigal son started making more sense. And it was easier for me to approach Him having understood His forgiveness.
Becoming a parent of a toddler and struggling to avoid the clash of my temper and his tantrums questioned my understanding of God as a Father again! He was slow to anger and abounding in mercy. Not me. He was always ready to welcome with arms open wide. Not me. He was willing to call me daughter even in disobedience. Not me. This was difficult for me to face. Especially in the awareness that children first experience God and His love primarily through their parents. I was far from the parent I wanted to emulate.
God was of course just and fair and in this I had my relief. Because so was I. My anger was often justified by the many mentions of the circumstances of God’s anger till I figured that was but a minute part of His character. In fact, going back to the father in the Prodigal Son story, anger doesn’t even seem to be a part of him. When his son left and squandered his hard-earned money, he was sad, upset, and hurt. Not even once does it mention he was angry. I had nothing more to justify my anger.
It made me re-look at the fathers and father figures around me. Fathers who have abandoned their kids for choosing a different career, for choosing their own spouse, fathers who almost suffocate their children in obedience and find it hard to provide for their needs even when they can, fathers who discourage, berate, and constantly negate the right of a son or daughter to be who they are meant to be.
And my heart pained at the thought of the many children I know who have been shunned by their parents, who were supposed to be an image of God’s love, for their choices. Mostly because it never met their expectations. Choices, not even sin. And parents who are far more accepting of their children’s sin rather than of their choices and parents who find it hard to even accept their child.
Here was a father who gave his son what he never deserved and yet did not write him off. A father who had the right to be angry but wasn’t. A father who only wanted his son to return. A father without ego or pride, not looking at himself but with true concern at his son who was lost. A father who respected his son’s choices even though wrong but waited patiently for him to come back. A father who didn’t wait for an apology.
Here was a father who saw his son from far away and ran to greet him. Here was a father who celebrated his son’s return forgetting the sin he committed. Here is a father who was so confident of his love that he knew that no matter how far his son wandered, he would return.
This is the true reflection of God the Father, as His only Son Jesus saw Him to be. A Son so convinced of His Father’s love that He took up the cross. Here is perfect love between a Father and a Son, even unto death.
As children we will always fall short of responding to the love of God our father. As Our Father, He will give us a second chance even after the third time.
As parents, we will always fall short of showing God’s love to our children. Our experience of His love will keep guiding us when we fail, to own our mistakes and transform our relationship with our children. Our biggest consolation though is the privilege, that our children have Him as their Father too.
The next time you wonder what to do with your child in each circumstance or doubt if what you’re doing is right, think of the father in the story of the Prodigal Son.
About the Author
Gilda Rose Kalathil prefers being called Daughter of the King. A Psychologist and Parenting Coach, she founded Faith Blocks, a ministry for Catholic families with little ones. She is wife and mom to two little ones. Other than adventure sports and swimming, Gilda loves and indulges herself in all things art. And she can’t say no to chocolate. You can reach out to her at GildaRose.com.