Problem Child

“You see, no one really ever accepted me. Who’d be that caring, that loving?  Who’d be that dumb?” ~ Junior, “Problem Child”

As a fan of comedy movies from the 80s and 90s, I was quick to notice when the movie “Problem Child,” starring the late John Ritter, appeared on our channel guide.  For those who missed this film, the plot centers on Ben and Flo Healy, who both desperately want to have a child for different reasons.  Ben sees it as an opportunity for relationship, but Flo sees it as way to advance socially.  After finding out they are infertile, they decide to adopt.  At the same time, the nuns at the local orphanage are at their wits-end with a 7-year-old orphan named Junior.  Everyone who has ever adopted Junior always returned him – 31 times.  In an effort to placate the nuns, the adoption agency foists Junior on the unsuspecting Healys.  Of course, this makes for good physical comedy, whether Junior is terrorizing the cat, setting fire to his bedroom, or befriending a serial killer.

The best part about this movie, however, is the interaction between Ben Healy and Junior.  During the first night at the Healys, Junior tells Ben, “You’ll learn quick enough (what it’s like to be a dad).  Then you’ll get rid of me.”

Ben tells him, “We’re never going to get rid of you.  You’re here forever.  The two of us…we’re going to do everything together.”  Later in the movie, Ben is at his breaking point and for a moment, considers returning Junior to the orphanage.  Then he says the greatest line ever:  “What are we going to do with our little problem child?  Something that no one has ever done for him before.  We’re going to love him when he’s bad; we’re gonna love him even harder when he’s worse until one day, he’s gonna crack and say, ‘Hey, these folks really do love me. They ain’t gonna quit on me.'”

We are all problem children, beset with the disease of sin.  Sin is not so much about bad behavior or wrong actions, as it is a willful trusting of ourselves and our own recounting of our stories.  Instead of trying to earn righteousness on our own, we should be seeing the Father, Son, and Spirit for who they are, trusting in how they re-tell each of our stories, mistakes and all.

Author Robert Capon talks about this “retelling” of our individual stories in his book, The Fingerprints of God.  He calls it “recapitulation,” and defines it as the eternal Son re-speaking our sins as all right to the Father:

“We go to our final home with our sins, not without them, for the simple reason that every moment of our history is held in him.  If that home is heaven, we’ll get there because our sins are held as no problem in his gracious recounting of them, not because we’ve gotten rid of them.  And if that home happens to be hell, it will be not because we’ve failed to get our sins out of our history but because we’ve refused to trust his recounting of them and insisted on trusting only our old way of adding them up.  Both heaven and hell, you see, are populated only and entirely by forgiven sinners.  The difference between those two conditions is faith or unfaith in Christ’s recapitulation of all things…” (44).

In the movie, Junior never becomes a good kid.  In fact, two more sequels were made, each one expounding on his unlimited ability to get into trouble.  But the one thing that never wavers is his adopted dad’s love for him.  Ben Healy is no longer oblivious to Junior’s proclivity toward mischief, but he accepts him, loves him, and bails him out of all the messes he creates.  He “retells” Junior’s story, not erasing Junior’s sins, but showing him, through love, that he is much more than all the trouble he makes.

One day, we’re gonna crack and say, “Hey, the Father, Son, and Spirit really do love me.   They ain’t gonna quit on me.”  The Triune God, aware of our tendency to sin, accepts us, loves us, and retells our story so that it is a cause for celebration.  In our retold story, they say, “We’re never going to get rid of you.  You’re here forever…(and) we’re going to do everything together.”

~by Nan Kuhlman

3 comments so far

  1. janehinrichs on

    What a good blog entry, what a good reminder. We are all problem children but the Father loves us no matter what. We also need to remember to give our fellow problem children grace. Because one day we will need that grace from them.

    • Nan Kuhlman on


      Thanks for tying the blog post into our need to extend grace to and receive grace from our fellow human beings. It’s all about relationship!


  2. janehinrichs on

    Amen Nan! It is all about relationship. God bless you and yours!

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