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Everyone who has grown up in church knows the prodigal son story very well (Luke 15:11-32). The drifting son has the love of his father and subsequently, everything else he could ever ask for. One day, the drifting son decides he wants his father’s inheritance now (aka – I wish you were already dead). His father gives it to him and he spends it lavishly.

He lives a life of sin for some time – the ESV calls it “reckless living.”  He wastes all his money away until he gets a job feeding slop to pigs, and he is so low that he becomes jealous of what the pigs get to eat and wishes he was in their situation rather than his.

That’s about as low as it goes.

You know the ending of the story. He wakes up and goes running back to his father who throws a party which gives this wandering son cool new threads, some bling, some new kicks, and a killer BBQ party! Of course, the son who stayed was upset, but the father understood that the son was repentant and he deserved a brand new start.

But what if there was an alternate ending to the story? I read it last week and began to wonder what would have happened if that son would have been enabled to continue on in sin?

What if the father was so broken over his son in the pig pen that he went to the son still living in sin and gave him the robe, the ring, the sandals, and the party before he ever became repentant?

See there is a difference in loving someone and enabling them. As my few weeks in fatherhood has taught me thus far, there is something called tough love. Just because you do something that doesn’t make someone happy does not mean that you don’t love them. The father in this story lavished gifts and love and steps of renewal when and only when the son got to the absolute lowest point in his life. In fact, being that low caused him to look up for help.

Sometimes I have confused mercy and justice in my walk. Sometimes I confuse being judgmental with just allowing consequences of actions to take place.  Sometimes I am worried that by confusing compassion and justice, I can enable people to continue on in sin.

Just a reminder from Scripture today: sometimes we have to get to the lowest point before we ever look up.  And sometimes, we can actually enable someone to continue on in sin if we don’t wait for true brokenness.  2 Cor. 7:10 says it best:

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. ”

What does that mean?  There is a difference in being repentant and being embarrassed.  You can be sorry that you got caught in sin and never truly be repentant.  My hope is that I always stay close to the Father.  But in the moments that I stray, I pray that true brokenness happens at the bottom that causes me to come to my senses and realize how good I have it in the presence of my Father.

Travis Agnew is a Christian, husband, father, pastor, author, blogger, and religion instructor.