Book Review: Come Back, Barbara

Come backFather and daughter C. John Miller and Barbara Miller Juliani team up to share Barbara’s prodigal daughter story from both sides in Come Back, Barbara. In each chapter John – also known as Jack – shares situations from his point of view at the time, then Barbara shares hers.

Miller and his wife, Rose Marie, thought they had a fairly normal Christian family until Barbara suddenly announced at eighteen that she wanted nothing to do with their rules and their Christianity any more. She wanted freedom on every level. The Millers were stunned. They had caught Barbara in a few lies over the years but thought those were isolated incidents. Her outward conformity for most of her life had fooled them into believing her heart was right as well. They realized they had been mistaken in not looking below the surface.

For a time they puzzled over comparing what they had always thought about her and the “new Barbara” emerging now. It just didn’t seem to fit – she had seemed like a genuine Christian. They thought at first that perhaps she was just going through a rebellious phase and would hopefully come out of it soon. Gradually they realized that her rebellion and deception went further than they had ever guessed. They had to accept, by her words and actions and reactions, that she was not a Christian, though she had once professed to be.

There’s no five-step foolproof plan to winning back a prodigal, but Jack shares some of what he learned. First, he had to realize he was truly powerless. All his efforts backfired. Often control is the first weapon against rebellious children. Of course, some degree of control is necessary in raising children, but parents “have to confront your own manipulative techniques of consolidating power” (p. 160).

Many fathers and mothers are simply more satisfied with a child’s conformity and less concerned with the youngster’s motivation and hidden desires, with what the Bible calls “the thoughts of the heart.” Often unconsciously, the self-centered parent labors to form an orderly child who performs well in public and does not shame the family by disturbing the status quo. The problem, of course, is not with the orderliness of the child, but with the shaping of a person with a desensitized conscience, a performer who has never learned to love God or people from the heart (pp. 160-161).

He had to give up control to God and depend on Him to draw Barbara to Himself. He also had to confront his own sins, realizing the irony of God’s using a rebellious child to show him his own heart.

And he had to genuinely apologize to Barbara. Even though he felt wronged and wounded, he could not hold on to victim status. He had to confess his wrongs whether she did or not. And that humility and honesty was a step in the right direction in their relationship.

The constant practice of forgiveness leaves no room for self-righteousness. Frustrated condemnation of others and treasuring of old wrongs are not part of the artillery of God, but the slithering, slimy, deadly creatures of the Prince of Darkness (pp. 79-80).

Jack and his wife wrestled for a long time over whether Barbara had apostatized and how to respond if she had. Finally they just had to accept that she was not a believer and treat her as they would any other unbeliever. They just had to show her Christ’s love. That didn’t mean accepting everything she did, but she knew where they disagreed. They asked that some things not be done in their house.

Showing such love in the face of disdain and rebellion is exactly what God has done for us. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NASB). Drawing from His love and grace enabled them to show love and grace to Barbara.

We were facing the death side of the Christian life, but there was a resurrection waiting to take place as we stepped into the grave. Today it is my conviction that no matter how heavy the blow inflicted by circumstances, each negative experience is part of the heavenly Father’s perfect plan for each believer. He allows the hour of destruction for the purpose of building something better in its place. Our part is not to run away from the pains but to walk through the briars and thorns and let Christ teach us how to turn each scratch into positive learning about the depths of God’s love (p. 67).

There is no more impenetrable barrier to God’s love than the sense of being right. So often self-righteousness controls a parent’s attitudes toward a rebellious offspring (p. 150).

He’s not saying to ignore right and wrong: they had to stand up for right and truth often. But they had to “speak the truth in love,” not from a sense lofty condescension.

Many parents tend to turn out an erring child, and sometimes indeed that’s the only option. The prodigal in Scripture left his father’s house in rebellion, and Barbara did that for a while, too. But Jack and his wife felt they needed to be open to Barbara, and when she moved back in their area, the Millers welcomed Barbara and her friends in their home, to show love and kindness to them as Jesus did with “tax collectors and sinners.”

At one point Barbara had “come back” in the sense of “settling down,” becoming responsible, not engaging in destructive behaviors. But she still was not a believer. As Jack pressed that point, it led to a major battle between him and Barbara.

Barbara, meanwhile, began “groping for the light while still resisting it” (p. 139). “Many painful things happened to me during this period, but the work of the Holy Spirit was to gently lead me from darkness to light” (p. 167). She described it like walking into a large, dark room, turning on the nearest lamp, moving to another area and turning on another lamp, continuing until there’s enough light to clearly see. She didn’t think she could have stood it if God had turned all the lights on at once. “Instead, God showed me the truth about myself bit by bit, in pieces I could handle” (p. 167.) One “light” was the realization that the things she thought would bring her happiness and allay her insecurities and anxiety could not. She was still unhappy, anxious, and insecure though at one time she had everything she thought she wanted. Another “light” was realizing her tendency to deceive and blame-shift. One by one God opened her eyes to the needs of her own heart and to His love.

I’ve noticed that C. John Miller has written some other books, but I don’t know anything about his theology other than what is in this book. One aspect that I was a little wary of was what he called “praying with authority.” In my experience, people using that kind of terminology advocate “demanding” answer to prayer, which to me seems to contradict the humility and surrender manifested in Scripture. But from what’s said in this book, that didn’t seem to be what they were talking about. Jack’s wife had said in the beginning of their troubles that she felt like an orphan. But gradually she realized she could come to God as a child to her Father, basing her requests on Scriptural truths. If that’s what they mean by praying with authority, then, yes, I agree. I was also a bit cautious when they talked about “claiming” certain things, associating that with the “name it and claim it” culture. But, again, in the context here that doesn’t seem to be what they are referring to.

I found this book on a sale table at a Christian bookstore years ago: the name in the title caught my eye. 🙂 I don’t know why I haven’t gotten to it before now, but I am glad I finally did. I marked many more places in the book than I have space and time to share here. I’d highly recommend it to anyone with a prodigal friend of family member or anyone who wants to read how God worked in lives to bring people to Himself.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday)

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Come Back, Barbara

  1. This book sounds perfect for one of the ladies in my small group who is dealt with a backslidden son. As a leader of small group ministry, and as a teacher and parent I’ve told so many moms and dads over the years that WE cannot get our children saved. God saves them IF they ask Jesus into heir hearts. Period the end, children need to take ownership of their own salvation. My own parents, both Bible believing born again Christians, thought I was a believer and were shocked when at age 15 i asked Jesus into my heart . “But we thought you already were a Christian,”. NOPE! Being good, going to church and Sunday school, reading the Bible, praying, and giving my small tithe did NOT make me a Christian, it’s a hard concept for some parents to grasp!!

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