What To Do When Your Adult Child Breaks Your Heart
“We don’t understand. We did everything we could.”
These were the words of dear friends of mine from Washington after they discovered that their son had made disappointing, embarrassing, and let’s call it what it is – incredibly selfish decisions – that will leave fingerprints on his life for years to come.
They’re distraught, and I’m heartbroken for them.
My friends are the kind of loving Christian parents you would want to adopt your kids if you passed away.
It doesn’t take long to discover, however, that sometimes it doesn’t matter who the parents are, some kids come into adulthood with one push. Others come out breach.
If your experience has been anything like my friend’s, I want you to make the hardest decision any parent will ever be asked to make.
I want you to leave your child on the altar to die, then walk away.
Worst Bible Story, Ever?
One of the biggest criticisms of the Christian faith is how the God of the Old Testament seems tyrannical and sadistic.
The passage skeptics love to highlight to justify this view is 1 Samuel 15:2-3, where God told King Saul,
“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”
The most troubling phrase, obviously, is “put to death…children and infants.”
To our 21st century minds, those six words are inexcusable. But before you rush to judgment, there’s something you should notice that gets lost in translation.
Right before “put to death…children and infants” – we read the words “totally destroy” – as in “totally destroy …men and women, children and infants.”
Understanding those two words is crucial for anyone trying to believe in the goodness of God, or parent a wayward child.
The phrase “totally destroy” comes from the Hebrew word herem (חרם) – which meant “to destroy” something and “to devote it to God” at the same time. It meant to worship God by destroying something of value.
When God declared a “herem” in 1 Samuel 15 it meant that Jewish foot soldiers going into battle weren’t going to be allowed to loot the bodies of slain Amalekites. Since these were volunteer soldiers (who didn’t receive a salary and matching 401(k) contributions), not getting “paid” through the bounty was a huge ask on God’s part.
Instead, they were told to totally destroy everything of value and consider the sacrifice of fighting for free an act of worship.
Understanding the Context
Since livestock were so valuable thousands of years ago, it’s understandable why later in 1 Samuel 15 we find that the soldiers weren’t crazy about the idea of totally destroying (herem) the sheep. “This is stupid!” we can hear them say. “I’m not killing this entire flock. They’re worth three year’s wages!”
And yes, at times, the wives and children of slain soldiers were taken as well.
But not in this battle.
Every single man, woman, child, and animal were to be totally destroyed (herem) as an act of worship.
Now if you’re disgusted by the idea of God commanding such a thing, I completely get it. I am too. This is a hard passage to stomach. But first please try to understand the context.
This was a situation like in the Second World War when the United States realized that invading Japan and putting foot soldiers on the island would cost millions of lives. They decided to do the unthinkable – drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – and potentially save millions of lives by killing hundreds of thousands.
Dealing with the Amalekite threat when they did – killing only a few thousand (and yes, that meant horrifically killing women, children, and their livestock supply) – ended up potentially saving hundreds of thousands in the future as well.
That doesn’t make what happened excusable or understandable, but that’s not my point here.
You Have to Decide
If you’re a parent who, like the great writer Simone Weil, “cannot love without trembling” right now because your adult kids are breaking your heart, please listen.
There comes a time when every parent has to herem their children – to totally devote them to the Lord by totally destroying any and all responsibility for their lives, their decisions, and their futures.
Like Isaac laying down his son Jacob down on the altar in Genesis 22, there comes a time when you have to put your child in the Lord’s hands and walk away.
The responsibility of dying a thousand late-night deaths worrying and fretting and manipulating and fixing and coercing and healing and disciplining and crying can no longer be yours.
The weight of this is killing you and hurting your child.
When Your Adult Children Break Your Heart
So, I want to ask you, right now – like literally, right now – to pray a prayer in which you herem your child to the Lord.
The act of mentally and emotionally doing this – totally and irrevocably placing your son or daughter in God’s hand and walking away – will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do as a parent. I get that.
But because you’re forcing them to take responsibility for their own lives, and giving them over to someone who can actually help them, it will ultimately be the kindest.
So, go ahead.
Pray the prayer.
Set them down.
And walk away.