We are enjoying a series of excerpts from Letting Go, a book I wrote with Paul Gilbert that was recently published by Zondervan. In part I, we began to explore the painful question – some might even consider it the nuclear option – of ‘how do we know when it’s time to let go?’. In addition to the two questions from “How Do We Know…Part I”, we offer the final 3 questions that should be asked.
Have Your Words Lost All Influence?
Words clothe our human relationships and reveal the condition of the human heart (Luke 6:45). To understand whether our words can carry any redemptive influence, two essential questions must be answered.
Are they habitually lying?
While lying often unleashes havoc on a relationship (Proverbs 26:28; Isaiah 32:7), it isn’t always a mark of unrestrained waywardness. But prodigals display a habitual pattern of deception. As the consequences pile up, responsibility slips away, and the narrative of “me as victim” takes over. The weaknesses or sins of loved ones become the real reason for their woes. This aggrieved status, when mingled with self-pity over the consequences of their choices, exonerates prodigals from any sense they may have of personal responsibility.
It’s hard for prodigals to speak truth when they’re working so hard to deny it.
If you love someone who is straying, pay attention to communication patterns. Chronic, habitual deceit signals that your present strategy is not working.
Is the person listening to you?
When dealing with prodigals, your words are subject to the law of diminishing returns. Prodigals become so hardened to input and correction that their hearts are more like a piece of Teflon than a sponge.
If your words are being deflected then your words have lost all influence, and you need to forge a new direction.
Have You Suffered Long with Little Fruit?
Our patience and long-suffering are important means God uses to expose and crush folly in the heart of a fool. These spiritual fruits are like holy antiseptic that work beneath the surface to bring healing. Yet at times our patience is met with an equally stubborn resistance. When this happens, a boundless forbearance can serve to accommodate sin rather than serving the sinner.
God’s patience carries the power to achieve God’s will. Ours does not.
The wayward are prone to take advantage of patience, but this tendency does not excuse us from showing patience. A truly prodigal heart exploits patience and in these cases, it may be time to convert the safe passage they enjoy at home into a temporary visa to another place.
Agreements and Commitments?
To live in a home is to live under rules. Every family has their own commitments that keep the peace and hold the family together. With a prodigal, though, commitments become ammunition in the fight for freedom.
It’s the challenge of managing the prodigal’s environment that brings the choice to let go into sharper relief. Each family’s capacity to absorb the blows of wayward behavior will be different. However, some threshold markers might be helpful in making the decision to let a loved one suffer the consequences of their choices:
- Is this person endangering himself or others?
- Are they unwilling to make commitments or acknowledge when they’ve failed to keep them?
- Has the parent, guardian,or spouse lost the capacity to curtail or contain their comings and goings?
- Are illegal, immoral, or dangerous elements being introduced into the home?
A ‘’yes’’ to one of these four questions reveals that you’ve lost the ability to engage and influence a prodigal. Letting go in the present may be the only way to secure their future.