Summary: Sermon 4 of a New Year’s series based on Wilkinson’s book Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs.
Several years ago, I read a case study in a book whose title I cannot remember so I will summarize from a copy of the case study that I still have in my possession. It was the story of a 16-year-old named Allan. Allan, his mother, and his younger sister, were referred to an adolescent health center for family counseling because Allan ran away a month earlier from home due to an argument with his mother about friends and curfews.
Now Allan was an excellent student and worked at a local gas station. He planned to attended college and major in one of the sciences.
Eventually Allan, during his time at the shelter, entered individual, family, and group counseling. During this time, he continued to attend school and resumed his part-time job.
Allan felt that his mother was too overprotected, seldom complimented him, and was overly critical of his friends and choice of clothes. His mother felt she had to be strict because she feared that his friends, especially some of his older friends, could lead him astray.
She constantly called the gas station where he worked to make sure that he was there, maintained a rigid curfew, and would not allow Allan to entertain his friends at home. During the counseling sessions, it became known that as Allan and his mother tried to discuss their differences, they would deteriorate into shouting matches about lack of love and appreciation, over protection, and which parent was responsible for the divorce.
The sister claimed that neither Allan nor their mother could talk about the issues because they could not listen to the other person. Eventually they learned how to listen and understand the other’s perspective without getting defensive and they continue to have family counseling that included Allan’s father.
Running away is a serious problem in our country. Joseph White, in his book The Troubled Adolescent says that 1 in 8 teens between 12 and 18 will run away at least once. The majority, he notes, are white girls, either 15 or 16, who have never had trouble with the law, who return within 48 hours and never go more than 50 miles from home.
That’s the majority. There is the minority- those who are other ages, those who are in trouble with the law, those who are from various ethnic groups, and those who are boys. Which brings me to our text for this morning and a question, ‘”From what was the youngest son running?”
Teens (and kids and adults) runaway for a variety of reasons: It sounds grand – like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. To escape from abusive environments – at home or in the neighborhood. It is seen as delinquent behavior. And, some see it, as a step toward defining oneself.
(Let me say at this point: “Everyone present within the sound of my voice or the view of these words from your computer screen: Do not attempt this at home. I will not be happy with you! If you are in danger then get to a safe place. But if you are mad because you are not getting your way, there is a better way to deal with the issue.)
Now, back to our text! Could we consider the prodigal (which by the way means “extravagant”) a runaway? Yes and no.