Reba was disheartened by the results of her efforts to be a good parent. Although she had not started out as a sterling example when her son was young, she had stopped a miserable habit six years ago and cautioned him many times since not to follow her down the same misguided path.

When Reba suffered a consequence of her 25-year folly by developing lung cancer, her son witnessed the travail of her treatment.

After each office chemotherapy visit, he would stop along I-295 on the way home so Reba could slide out of her SUV and vomit.

“Not a pretty sight,” Reba gulped. “It was always the same place. He waited patiently till I stopped gagging.” During radiation therapy, when she could not swallow, her son would spoon Ensure into her mouth.

Reba was distressed because she wanted her son to stop a habit with life-changing and life-threatening consequences. Reba’s son smoked.

“I feel so guilty. I’ve failed as a mother,” she groaned. Weren’t her recent cessation, her conversations with her son about the risks of smoking, and his observation of his mother’s suffering from smoking enough to be strong deterrents?

Soon after she quit smoking, Reba claimed the Bible verse: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

Yet she wondered, “Can’t you make any mistakes when you’re young, and still keep your child from doing something you know’s wrong? This isn’t how I wanted to be connected with my son. I’ve changed my ways. So should he.”

Nevertheless, Reba understood there are many biblical examples of individuals who wandered from the dictates of their parents when they grew up.

King Solomon himself, the author of Proverbs, abandoned godly teaching — including his own — in later life, likely grieving his mother: “His wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully directed to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.” (1 Kings 11:4)

The consequences of Solomon’s behavior produced the decline and division of his kingdom after his death. Reba sighed, “What’s a parent to do today if they couldn’t get it right in the Bible?”

Reba had a follow-up CT scan because she developed gnawing, deep-seated chest pain. The cancer had grown twice as large as before treatment.

“Now will he stop smoking? He knows I don’t have long to live,” she cried.

In desperation, Reba turned to her pastor. He began by explaining there are many reasons why a child may follow a different path (or the same unfortunate path) despite good examples and teaching; nevertheless, that outcome does not diminish our responsibilities as parents.

He asked Reba to consider the example of the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel. He gave the people God’s message at a desperate time — in 586 B.C.  — when the further consequences of Solomon’s indiscretions and the people’s rebellion against the ways of God had resulted in the invasion and dissolution of the nation.

Ezekiel was advised by God he was expected to preach to the people, no matter what their response: “Whether they listen or fail to listen — for they are a rebellious house — they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (Ezekiel 2:5)

Although devastated and discouraged by this revelation concerning the people’s possible rejection of his God-ordained teaching, Ezekiel heeded God’s solemn call.

Reba’s pastor explained Ezekiel was not responsible for the people’s reaction, but was responsible for being faithful in giving God’s message to the people by how he lived and how he spoke.

Ultimately, children must become adults, making their own decisions and taking responsibility for these decisions. Reba understood her responsibility was to transmit her faith and values by her words and actions, no matter what her son chose to do with this information and example.

At least, Reba was comforted knowing her son cannot smoke around her anymore, since she is on oxygen. “Maybe this will do it finally,” she murmured with a faint, hopeful smile.

Reba still longs for her son to quit smoking, even though she accepts her son must make his own decisions now he is an adult. For just as God grieves because of the choices people — his creation– make, Reba grieves because of the choice her son has made.

 

Dr. Delvyn C. Case Jr. is a hematologist-oncologist, writer and playwright, and consultant to the Department of Pastoral Services at Maine Medical Center in Portland.