IT’S AP-PARENT SERMON SERIES
CLEARING THE HEIR – RELATING TO YOUR PARENTS AS AN ADULT
SEPTEMBER 18, 1994
When Lisa and I lived in Houston we were on a street that had a bunch of giant trees. And if you have ever been to Houston, you know Houston is a town of big trees. And when you have giant trees, you have giant leaves. Giant trees make giant leaves and you have to have giant leaf raking parties if you want to have some semblance of a nice looking yard. One Thanksgiving holiday we decided to do some raking. We had a giant raking celebration. We hit the front yard and we rake, and rake and rake, twenty-five trash bags of leaves filled to the brim. And then I looked to my wife and I said, “Honey, let’s stop here, the front yard looks good, it looks like the eighteenth green at Augusta, let’s kind of go inside now and relax.” And she said, “Ed, I want to do the back yard.” Well we had a really large yard in Houston and the back yard was something treacherous because we had two giant dogs back there, a 150 pound rottweiler and a 60 pound mutt and they regularly dug grand canyon like caverns throughout the yard and left giant land mines everywhere. You had to watch out for these land mines because they could really cause you trouble for a long period of time. We did face the back yard and three hours later we finally did that deal. A grand total of 50 yard bags. After we had finished our task, that feeling of, ah, I did it, we looked at our yard and we were so happy and jubilant until we looked and saw our neighbor’s yard. Our neighbor’s yard looked horrible. Leaves everywhere, the grass had died, toys all over the place. And it was within us to kind of walk over our property line from the beautiful yard to the weed-infested and leaf-covered yard and kind of do their yard too. We wanted to do that but we couldn’t, because we are only responsible for what goes on within our boundaries, within our property lines, aren’t we?
Today I am talking about property lines. I am talking about boundaries. I am talking about space. We are going to discuss the dynamics between grown children and their parents. This volatile and sometimes complex relationship has to do with a concept called property lines, boundaries or space.
I want to give you three decisions that you need to make in order to have a great relationship with your grown children or grown children, with your parents. Three decisions you desperately need to make if you want to have a great relationship. And all three decisions center around this topic called personal property lines. If you want to read more about this topic I encourage you to buy any book written by Dr. Henry Cloud, a wonderful Christian author who writes on this particular subject.
What is the first decision I have to make if I want to really connect with my grown children or my parents? It is the first point on your outline. Please take your outlines out with me and let’s get ready to fill in the first point. First of all, I have got to establish personal property lines. Establish personal property lines. Some of you who are kind of thinking ahead are going, “Ed, how do you do that?” Here is what the Bible says in Genesis 2:24. “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife and they shall become one flesh.” How many times have you heard this verse during wedding ceremonies? Lift your hands. For this cause, the pastors will piously quote, a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. And the pastors and the teachers like to concentrate on the cleave part, the intimacy part of marriage, the becoming one flesh. I have got news for you. When you concentrate on just the last part of the verse, you miss the first command, because you can’t cleave, you can’t become one flesh until you first of all, leave. You have got to leave to cleave. Focus On The Family radio ministry conducted a survey among 2,600 young married adult couples. They wanted to know what was the number one frustration they dealt with. The results staggered them. It blew their staff away. The number one frustration that young married adults deal with is the inability or the unwillingness of their parents to release them, to let go. Are you ready for that? Well meaning parents still want the control. They still want to say, here, son, are your property lines, here, daughters, are your property lines, don’t move from within those property lines or get outside those lines, I will draw the boundaries, I’ll make the parameters, you stay with them and everything will be A-OK.
There comes a time, though, where Moms and Dads, we have to release our children. Parenting is a slow transfer of title. Did you hear that? A Mom and a Dad, they slowly transfer the title. It begins at birth. It is a gradual process, your outline says, that moves from a vertical power structure, see this vertical arrow, to a horizontal power structure. And it begins when the doctor spanks them on the rump, that starts the process, that begins the ball rolling. And we give our children more and more decision-making rope and as they make decisions and as they improve on their choices, then we are ready to launch them into adulthood with great velocity and direction. We shouldn’t give them, though, too much rope too soon. If you do that it kind of sounds like this. (demonstration of a call for help) And I have seen parents, well-meaning parents, they look at their ten year old children and say, “OK you call the shots, you make all the decisions, go for it.” It is a gradual process, showing them how to make their boundaries, showing them how to draw out and survey their own turf.
Jesus, when he was twelve years of age, was left inadvertently behind in the Temple by His parents. And they backtracked and they tried to find Him and sure enough He was talking to the religious leaders. And Jesus looked at His parents and He said these words, “Mom and Dad, can’t you see, I am going to be following My Father, I am going to be doing His will?” What was Jesus saying? He was delicately and perfectly drawing personal property lines. Later on in His life in Matthew 28:18 Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” God the Father gave authority to the Son. We are to give authority, to give decision-making power, to give boundaries to our children.
Here is how you do it. Teach and model. Parents, teach and model. You begin when they are young teaching the decision-making process and then modeling how to do it. You teach them how to draw relational lines, spiritual lines, physical lines. You teach them by using God’s word. You teach them by taking them to church. You say, when you want to make a decision, make sure it is under the authority of God’s word. Make sure that you have talked to God about it, that you have sought wise counsel from friends. After you teach them, then you model it, parents. Because children learn how to make decisions from Mom and Dad. They are watching you, every second of every day. How does Dad handle himself in this situation? How does Mom formulate that choice? And then, they will end up making choices like we do. The choices you make today, parents, will be the choices your children will make as they get older. Because while they are growing up they pretty much do what you want them to do. Once they hit the teenage years, though, they do what you do.
A quick example. Let’s take relationship. I am talking about teaching and modeling. I am talking about drawing and establishing personal boundaries. The Bible says in no uncertain terms that we are to date those people who know Jesus Christ personally. The Bible says we are not to be unequally yoked with nonbelievers in a close relationship. And God gives us this directive because of His love. He could not stand the thought of people He loved living with someone or relating to someone on an intimate level who doesn’t have that common denominator which has to be Jesus Christ. Neither your marriage, nor your dating relationship, nor friendship can ever reach the top level until Jesus is at the center. Children are watching you, parents, and they are seeing how you choose friends, they are watching your relational qualities. As you teach how to relate, as you model relationships, then you give them decision-making rope in order to choose their own friends. And while they are growing up, as they choose their friends, you coach them. You applaud them or you tell them where they are going wrong. And sometimes, parents, you are going to have to step in and say, “I don’t think it is a good idea for you to go over to his house.” “I don’t think it is in your best interest to have a sleep-over with her family, with that person.” And you are going to have to explain your rationale. That is how the children learn. That is how they draw the boundaries, the property lines. And then one day when they are an adult, 21, 22 or 23 years of age, they are into adulthood and they are property owners. They have a title and they are secure and they are whole and they take responsibility for this tract of land.
We have got to make a second decision. Grown children, we have got to put up “No Trespassing” signs. “A No Trespassing sign, Ed, what are you talking about? No trespassing. Am I to rebel against my parents? Am I to tell them to go and take a hike or jump in the lake? Here is a diving board, Dad.” Here is what I am talking about. Ephesians 6:4 explains it. “Fathers do not exasperate your children.” Do not trespass on their territory. Do not violate their boundaries. Don’t yell at them, this verse means. Don’t curse at them. Don’t abuse them. But I want to say something to you, children, grown children. The Bible says in the fifth commandment, honor your father and your mother. Honor them, from birth until death. Show respect. Show high esteem. Talk to them. Listen to their advice. You don’t have to take it, but listen. And speak the truth to them, not in anger, not in manipulation, not in guilt, but speak the truth to them in love. But once you become a property owner, put the No Trespassing sign down. And it is so tempting for parents to want to control, isn’t it? To do the Pinocchio thing. I am going to control you over here, and you right there. Your parents reason to themselves, I have earned it. I have paid. I counted this up the other day, $153,000 from the time you were born until you were 18 years of age. I made that property, I have earned the right, so I am going to control you.
You know why we control, parents? Here’s why parents love to control adult children. Three reasons. The first reason, it’s not on your outline. In the last service I could tell they were looking to find this on the outline. Parents like to control grown children because they live vicariously through their lives. They want to achieve through their children what they haven’t achieved, and we have talked about that. Another reason is the need reason, they need their children. Their children have become extensions of themselves. They are too linked. They are inseparably linked. And the problem with this is, the marital relationship has taken a back seat to the relationship with a son or daughter. Parents, you have got to put a top priority on your relationship with your spouse, because what will happen, one day when the children have their own personal property lines, you will wake up with the empty nest syndrome and look over and you don’t know who this other person is. That is why I say to Moms and Dads, have a date night once a week. It is hard to do, it is getting more and more difficult for Lisa and I now that we have four children, but we do it. I would take at least one vacation a year with just you and your spouse. It might be just two nights, or one night. But do it. And some are saying, well I can’t afford it. Well, you can’t afford not to do it, is what I am telling you. You have got to do it. Put it on a credit card. It is worth it. But this need thing is real, this living vicariously. Another reason that we have a tough time letting go is because of fear. Oh, I am just fearful of what will happen to my grown child. I can’t put them in this situation, I can’t let them take that risk. I will just protect them, I will hover over them.
Let’s get even more specific, grown parents. This is how we control them. This is how we pull the strings. We put on three hats. The first hat we put on is the hat of a banker. You heard that before? We control our grown children with cash, the rent, the credit card. Always picking up the tab for the meal, the vacation. The banker hat. And that is not a bad train to be on, is it? You’re a grown child. “Oh, yeah Dad, I’ll do that.” And now and then your Dad or Mom might remind you, well who paid for that car? “OK, I’ll do it.” Then we put on the hat, parents, of the lecturer. I’m talking about, again, not teenagers, I am talking about grown children and parents. Some of the teenagers here are going, “All right. This is great. No Trespassing sign, huh.” Also the hat of a lecturer. Listen to this one. Here is what Dad says sometimes to grown children. “Son, I wouldn’t buy that foreign car. Buy American.” And we give them our “Ross Perot United We Stand” speech, buy American. If you buy that foreign car, you might as well move to Tokyo, just go ahead and move to Tokyo. And we have heard this. The lecturer. And then we put on the rescuer hat. We won’t let our grown children live. We have got to know everything. And, parents, when they have problems they will come to you. Talk to them about it, you can help them out. I am not saying, don’t ever help your child out financially, or something. But there is a balance there, I am talking about overboard, I am talking about trespassing. But this rescuer thing happens a lot. Rescue my son. Rescue my daughter. Are you into that? You have got to let them fail, flounder a little bit and watch them grow.
Here is the result of a controlling parent. Two blanks in your outline. The result, domination or rebellion will be the results of this. Your child will feel dominated and I am talking about children who are 25, 35 and 45. They lack the courage to say to their parents, “Mom, Dad, I am a grown person, I am an adult.” And they lack that courage and they feel dominated. But one day, though, they will have had enough and they will have a kind of explosion. Sometimes children just rebel. At 21 they will rip the reins of control off their back and say, I’m going to do it the opposite way and they think, when they have their own personal property and their own deal and they just do the opposite of what their parents do, that that is really being independent. And it tears them apart from this relationship that God wants to grow and to develop through the years. A No Trespassing sign. Watch the violations.
A third decision, and a final decision we have to make. We have got to take responsibility for our property. We have got to take responsibility for our property. I love what I Corinthians 13:11 says, “When I was a child I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.” And I know a lot of baby busters who still like to talk and think and reason like children. And they prefer the cocoon of parental protection over the reality of the tough and real world. And they like staying at home. They like that cash. They like all the meals prepared. They like the new clothes. They like, they like, they like. And sometimes the children make this call and the parents have done the best they can as far as launching them into the world. I Corinthians 13 though says, “When I was a child I talked and I thought and I reasoned like a child, when I became a man (or when I became a woman) I put childish things behind me.” I put them behind me. And Jesus says throughout the Gospel, one day you are going to face Me and you cannot swing into heaven on your Mom’s apron strings or your Dad’s coattails. It is going to be you and Me. You will have to give an account for your life. You will have to take responsibility for it. You have to make the choices and stay within the boundaries of your personal property.
Let’s really get practical here and let’s look at how we can take responsibility for our property. The first bold line, with a little dot on it, you have got to realize something, you have got to realize you’re both property owners. You have property, you have a title to a piece of property and so do your parents. Do you really realize that and understand that and own that fact? Number two. Verbalize to God and to your parents that you are an adult. Tell God that. “God, I am 22 years of age. I am an adult and help me to understand that and help me to verbalize that to other authority figures and especially my parents.” Have you told your parents you are an adult? Have you? Number three. Have your own opinions, own your own opinions. I know some grown children, they cannot have an opinion or make a choice without saying let me talk to Mom and Dad about it. Whatever you say, OK. OK, let me talk to Mom and Dad about it. Again, it is great to get their advice, but you have got to have the courage to disagree. And that brings up to the fourth point, respectfully disagree with authority figures. Respectfully disagree. Talk to your Ross Perot/United We Stand father and say, “Dad, I appreciate the speech, I know where you are coming from. Thank you. But, my wife and I, we have researched it and we are going to buy a Honda Accord, it is a better car.” Can you respectfully disagree? Because when you respectfully disagree here is what will happen. Your parents will go, “Whoa, he or she is an adult.” And then a dialogue will begin and the boundaries will start and the love will flow and it will really grow. I know a lot about this topic because I had a tough time with this. My parents did an excellent job a far as launching me out, I don’t have any problem with that. But I still kind of played both sides of the fence. Let me explain.
Twelve years ago Lisa and I got married. We lived in a tiny apartment on one side of Houston, my parents lived in their home on the other side of Houston. It was tempting for me to go to their home, because I was a young guy still in college, working full time, into all the games and athletics, big time. My parents have this cool basketball court in their back yard, tennis lights on it, three point line, the whole nine yards, a swimming pool back there. So, of course, I would go over there on the weekends. And Lisa was working on the weekends, I didn’t have to work, so everything was cool. I just had a ball with my friends. We would have parties over there. Swimming parties, basketball parties. This went on for about a month. All right, yeah. And I would come home at night, Saturday night, about 11:30 pm, “Hi, baby.” (demonstration of a little kiss) And I would get kind of the cold treatment, you know. And I am a little bit slow. Bong. Bong. It happened a couple more weeks and then one day I was playing basketball and my mother comes outside (from Mississippi, it takes her about three syllables to say the word Ed), “Ed, Lisa is on the phone.” “OK, time out.” So I go in the house, pick the phone up and Lisa, I could tell she was not a happy wife, she said, “Ed, why are you still at your parent’s house?” I said, “Well, I am playing basketball, we are in the middle of a game and we have two more games to go.” And she said, “Ed, remember you are married and you are not a teenage son anymore, you are my husband.” I won’t tell you the rest of the conversation, but I remember it like it was yesterday because that was the moment that I drew those boundaries, those personal property lines. I challenge you, I encourage you to do the same thing. Because you will be so, so glad you did. And you will watch this relationship, grown children and their parents, grow and prosper and glorify and magnify the living Lord.