Co-Dependency as Bondage to (and participation in) Evil

The proverbs of Solomon. A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother. (Pro 10:1)

The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. (Pro 29:15)

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!
(Luk 15:17)

There is a pattern of sin that I have personally experienced or dealt with over the years that is quite common. It is a trap and snare which all of us must be on guard for. And in particular, my experience indicates that it is a snare which commonly catches mothers, sometimes in regard to their daughters but more often in respect to their sons.

Motherly love is a wonderful thing. It is very powerful. It protects, nourishes, grieves for, rejoices with, takes pride in, instructs, and sacrifices for. A mother’s love is a great blessing given by the Lord.

But when that powerful love goes wrong….it ceases to be love and can turn into a prodigal child’s greatest hindrance to repentance. A mother can, if she is drawn into this snare, become her son’s or daughter’s biggest enemy.

Real love seeks the genuine welfare and good of the object loved. Real love therefore includes discipline when required:

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Heb 12:6)

But when this sinful dynamic (often called “co-dependency”) engages, a destructive “I cannot be happy if you are not happy and therefore I must always make you happy” mechanism comes into play. It is a malignant kind of symbiosis with each person feeding off the other one. It is really not about love, but about getting. It is selfish. Let me illustrate:

Mary is 52 years old, married to Jack, and they have a 30 year old son, David. David is a grief to his parents. He is selfish and lazy. David is, you might say, a parasite. A black hole who sucks from everyone who comes near him.

And David is a master at playing his mother for all he can get. Though Mary often loses her temper with David, is disgusted by his sin, Mary just cannot and will not say “no.” Mary sends him money when he calls (which is frequently). David says he lost his latest job, but it wasn’t his fault. If he had a decent car he would have made it to work on time. Besides, everyone at work was against him. David is thinking about suing for wrongful termination. Mary lies awake at night fretting over his situation. Mary, in fact, is more worried about David than David is worried about David!

Jack wishes Mary would stop it. He has told her so, but he knows that if he presses the matter Mary is going to blow up. She will accuse him of not caring. Of not loving. Of not forgiving as a real Christian should.

And David is on drugs and alcohol. It isn’t really his fault, says Mary. Because he was so traumatized when he was younger. The other kids picked on him, she didn’t spend enough time with him, and he eventually just fell in with the wrong crowd. Mary feels very guilty about it all, blaming herself, and spends hours every day trying to make David happier – so she can be happier.

Fundamentally, Mary thinks that the father of the Prodigal Son in Luke’s Gospel should have chased after his son, found him in the pig pen, rescued him and brought him home. Or at least wired him some more money when he called. Of course the father in that parable represents God the Father, and the Prodigal represents the sinner who flees from the Lord and goes after the world in sin. Therefore, though she doesn’t really see it, Mary thinks that her method of dealing with David is superior to that of God’s. She just could never let her son wallow in the mire with those pigs.

And yet, it is in that very muck that the Prodigal came to his senses and repented.

My own mother, my maternal grandmother, numbers of people I have known over the years – all of them professing Christians – have been snared by this trap. And I can tell you – no good came from it in any of these cases. I can tell you something else – only one of these cases ever showed any kind of repentance. Marriages were damaged or destroyed. The prodigals never came to their senses. And the “Mary’s” persisted in believing they had done a good thing. To the day they died.

Surely this is a favorite trap of Satan to take souls to hell and to blaspheme the name of Christ.

Sometimes (even often) genuine love walks away, let’s the prodigal go his own way, prays often and intensely, and leaves the outcome to the Lord.

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mar 10:21-22)