Mar 262013 19 Responses

How to Respond to Others When They Make Bad Choices

Parenting a rebellious teenager, coaching a self-centered point guard, managing an insubordinate employee, watching a friend commit adultery–we live in a world of bad choices. We make them. Others make them. Everybody makes them.

One of the most challenging times of life is dealing with others when they are making obviously bad choices.

In the final week of Jesus’ life, we read the story of one of his disciples rebelling against him. Judas sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Handpicked by Jesus, it is reassuring to know that even Jesus faced opposition from within his own team. Seeing how Jesus treated Judas is a good lesson on how we can handle the rebellion of those we love.

He honored the right of Judas to make his own decisions. Jesus allowed Judas to betray him. He didn’t stop him. He didn’t use his power to prevent Judas from doing it. He didn’t usurp his decision making ability. Judas was a grown man and had the right to make certain decisions. Jesus allowed him to make those decisions even if those decisions would be self-destructive. As parents this is an important lesson. When our kids are little we get to decide what decisions our kids get to make. As they get older, we have less choices. We can influence their decisions, but the decisions belong to them. Jesus allowed Judas to make a bad decision. Sometimes we have no choice but to allow others to do the same. (See: Parenting Adult Children Who Make Bad Choices)

Jesus didn’t inflict pain, but he allowed Judas to experience pain. When others make bad decisions, I’m tempted to help them experience the negative consequences. As a matter of fact, I sometimes try to create negative consequences. Jesus didn’t do that. He didn’t add to the sorrow, but he also didn’t remove all the negative consequences. In the same way that Jesus honored the decision making ability of Judas, he also honored the ability of Judas to experience the negative consequences of those decisions. Far too often, parents rescue their children from the consequences of bad decisions. This teaches the children there are no negative consequences for decisions. If they are old enough to make bad decisions, they are old enough to experience the consequences of bad decisions.

The identity of Jesus wasn’t defined by the rebellion of Judas. Parents have a major responsibility. Our bad decisions can negatively influence our children. However, our children also have a responsibility. Ultimately they are in charge of their own lives. Knowing the difference between our responsibility and theirs is a vital aspect to parenting. Judas rebelled, but that wasn’t the fault of Jesus. Judas rebelled, but that didn’t define the identity of Jesus. Separating our identity from the behavior of our children is important for them and us. No child deserves the pressure of their actions defining their parents.

Jesus spoke compassionate truth. The words of Jesus to Judas were hard, but they were true. Jesus explained the consequences of Judas’ decision making. He didn’t seem to take joy in communicating the truth, but he did tell Judas what would happen. It is tempting to downplay difficult things when speaking to people we love. Jesus rejected this temptation. So should we.

Jesus never changed. What if Judas had repented? The Bible tells us he regretted his decision, but regret is not repentance. What if Judas had fallen on his face before Jesus and asked for forgiveness? Everything in the Bible leads us to believe that Jesus would have forgiven him. The relationship between Jesus and Judas was broken not because of the actions of Judas, but because of the continual lack of repentance of Judas. Had he returned, Jesus would’ve forgiven. While parents should never enable their children’s bad behavior, we can promise to love them no matter what decisions they make. (See: Remember This When You Make a Mistake)

Few things are as challenging as respecting a person’s right to make decisions which we do not respect. In the final days of his life, Jesus navigated that balance with a great skill which I admire.

19 Responses to How to Respond to Others When They Make Bad Choices
  1. Leslie Reply

    I truly appreciate your article. When the rebellious child is a 20 something young adult with a degree and job still living at home, what would you advise to the parents?

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Leslie, Thank you for reading and for the comment. Without any more detail than what you have given me, I would say: work with them to make a plan for them to be out of the house and then work the plan. Hold them accountable and let them experience the consequences of their decisions if things don’t go well. Some kids, not all, will not fend for themselves until the parents stop fending for them.

  2. Mary Southard Reply

    I think that the sooner they get out the better. One of the lines that is hard to walk is the fact that if you and your child are Christians, there is the added dimension of being brothers and/or sisters in Christ. And if there are few Christians who are in the son/daughter’s life who care enough about his/her soul, then I think when teaching is necessary, you have to present it. I am not saying to nag. Although, the adult child will most surely see it as interference. In other words, I do not believe in withholding Biblical truth in order to avoid interfering with anyone’s right to make choices. Sometimes no one outside of the family cares enough to teach. Again, it will be perceived as trying to control. But so be it. Present the teaching calmly and one time. Then pray like the dickens.

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  5. Elley Reply

    I need help dealing with a 29 year old daughter who has really bad taste in men. She has dated quite a few that her dad and I do not approve of and is now living with a divorced man who has 3 children. He doesn’t treat her very well and I have a hard time seeing her involved with him. I try to believe that God knows what he is doing and I know I just need to trust in him but it’s been so many years of praying for the same thing for her and she continues to make bad decisions. Please help me figure out the best way to parent her.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Elley, I think the only thing you can do is to model good decision making for your child and give advice when asked. Sadly, there isn’t much more.

      • D. Louise Rose Reply

        Kevin, similar circumstances to the ones in Elley’s question/comment, except that two of our 35-year-old daughter’s last relationships involved violence and threats of violence – both physical and emotional, and she has a 3-year-old. (She is divorced from his dad and has full custody.) We have made a lot of the mistakes you’ve talked about in our relationship with her as an adult and she resents it to say the least. But I can’t seem to stop trying to caution her (to the point of nagging from her point of view), remind her of past heartaches, make suggestions and encourage certain changes (better places to meet guys, i.e., church).
        There are some added issues as well – my husband suffers from extended periods of depression and our son is happy and successful, with a wonderful family. Life has been generally “easy” for him, while his sister has always had struggles with life – relationships in particular.
        Do you have any additional comments/ideas about how to relate to her under these circumstances?

        • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

          My only thought is that your insight will not be accepted unless she asks for it so I would refrain from giving it unless she asks. I know that is difficult, but I think it is the best process. You have to respect her right to make her own decisions.

  6. samantha Reply

    Everything in life is constantly changing. What you hold as truth today, will become big lie tomorrow. Using Jesus and Judas as an example is not right. Advanced Christians know, in Bible, everything serves its purpose. Jesus let Judas make mistake…Are you sure? Things were predicted long before. I do believe, parent has right to interfere with their kids if it is necessary. It is important for parent not to give up. Its not about letting them to make their own choices; sometimes it is about saving their sons or daughters lives. There is no fix formula to these cases. Yes, often we must watch silently and suffer; often we can plant good seed after long struggle.

  7. Shelly Reply

    Samantha i am with you but it does no always have a positive outcome…
    Our 19yr yr old son at the time, great kid,thought it a good idea to approach me with a letter ( not a good idea) with a request he had. I informed him i was not a fan of letters but I’d read it in his presence has he waited…he thought it would be a good idea to date the married, although bad marriage and heading toward divorce, 13yr older woman that was our employee. Well you can imagine the response, although calm, was to the point a STORM is coming and you are going to be in for a mighty ride. I spoke to her personally face to face on 2 occasions and I need no further visits-I was a little freaked out by her…my soul was rattled by her evil spirit. He didn’t understand that that meant relationships were about to be strained; some beyond repair-scars for all. She lost her job, I think we all know why, he moved out and the lies started. We stood our ground, morals, and God given right and responsibility to lay it out for him as his guide and teacher in a loving manner; even scripture to guard his heart. The relationship became strained between he and his father because they worked together; he left and took another job. His wise council at this point is gone-no family contact. He continued coming to church but didn’t find the sermons to his liking etc. He is now 21 and just married this woman in June…we are still at odds. All the while our family prayed and still prays for him to wake up to a very controlling relationship; she has to be everywhere he is; a narcissist at best. It is HARD but we cannot veer from who we are; we love him but do not accept that for him. Boundries are hard. I feel we did the Jesus, Judas thing….

  8. Vicki M Bales-Humble Reply

    Act 1:18 Indeed, then, this one bought a field out of the reward of unrighteousness; and falling headlong, he burst in the middle, and poured out all his bowels.
    I am Jewish and very much appreciated this article, but one thing I do want to point out is that in Judaism, spilling your guts, bowels being poured out, falling headlong, bursting in the middle all means “Repented”

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  11. Diana Reply

    My husband is a drug and pronography addict. He has sober time and then out of what seems like no where falls out. This has been going on most of his adult life and behavior issues as a child (probably oppositional defiant). I have know him for seven years and we have been married three years of which we have only lived together for less than one year of the three. This is due to him being in and out of rehab facility mostly christian facilities. When I fell in love with him was during his sober time and that time is precious as he is a devout man of God. He is now in another facility and wants me to stay away for him to get right with Jesus. I understand that we need to get grounded but I wold only get to see him for three hours once a week and I am devastated because it seems judt one more thing for him to stay awaay and no responsibility. Do you have any advice?

  12. Tracey Reply

    Diana, I am no expert in matters such as yours; however, I have been married for 33 years. My husband and I have had our share of disagreements and rough patches due to poor communication and our individual issues that affect our relationship. Personally, when I am dealing with an issue, my husband rushes in to fix it with unsolicited advice. This only angers me because I need time to process things to decipher where this issue stems from. I need time and space to respond to it in a healthy way. Respect for my personal boundaries is needed at this time, and my husband has a difficult time in understanding this. But I am finally seeing some progress. Why? Because I am going to therapy trying to sort through my issues that stem from low self- esteem. Simply stated, I need space and time.

    Similarly, I think your husband may need this space and time to sort through his issues. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you, it might mean that he has to learn to love and accept himself, good and bad, so he can become a better version of himself to engage in a healthy relationship with you.

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