Loving Your Prodigal Child

Kim Sullivan

January 19, 2020

As a parent who is praying for a couple of prodigals to return, I often find it hard to know what to talk about with my children who are struggling in the faith. Our perspectives and experiences are so different because we don’t share the same worldview. There are so many topics that I feel the need to steer clear of, and I always wonder if and when certain things should be addressed. Suddenly, these people with whom I’ve lived for decades feel like strangers and communicating can be awkward resulting in anxiety.

More than likely, it won’t be my voice they respond to when the Holy Spirit woos them to return. On one hand, my children intimately know my beliefs, and it is disrespectful for them to constantly challenge them or worse yet, flippantly shove disregard for their upbringing and family heritage. On the other hand, when considering our position not as parent, but as a believer showing the love of Christ to an unbeliever, our response may require overlooking things that at one time we would never have overlooked.

Let your kids experience consequences

Helicopter parenting doesn’t end when our children leave home. I find that these days people pay their children’s bills, bail their children out, and fight their kid’s battles for them well into their twenties. This would be unheard of in generations past. We have lengthened the time of childhood. On one hand, this generation wants independence, until they don’t, meaning until they need your help with insurance, car note, or whatever the need might be. I’m not just talking about an occasional crisis, but parents taking responsibility for regular life expenses.

When I think of the prodigal son, I think of how the father in the parable let the son go. He knew that the young man was walking away from the way he was raised. He knew that he would likely go about riotous living. Who knows what kinds of imaginations this father endured while his son was gone? Is he dead? Has he hurt himself or others in his foolishness? Is he in jail, or some other embarrassing situation? But regardless of his imaginings, in his wisdom, he waited until the son came running to him. He allowed him to experience consequence.

I wonder how differently the story would turn out if the father sent a monthly check to his son? Sometimes I think that the fear of allowing our children to experience consequences prolongs their poor choices. I doubt the son would have come to the same conclusion if the father had enabled him to continue in his lifestyle.

Don't try to rescue

We’ve established the fact that the prodigal’s father didn’t go run after the son. He didn’t find him and drag him back home, imprisoning him until he came to his senses. The truth is, he likely wouldn’t have come to his senses in that way. I’m so thankful for the Holy Spirit. He wants my children back in the fold, more than I do. He can do work that I cannot. He has already planned interventions, circumstances, and divine appointments for my children that only he in his excellent wisdom could achieve. Jesus rescued us from our sin and our past. I can rescue no one from sin and death. When I acknowledge this, it sets me free from a burden that was never mine to begin with.

Pray without ceasing

Nothing will help the fulfillment of the command to, “Pray without ceasing (Ephesians 6:18),” as easily as parenthood! I know that at each “letting go” stage for my children, I tried to remember to pray when I was tempted to rush in to rescue. Parental prayer is nothing more than the ultimate “letting go and letting God.” Pray as the Holy Spirit leads, release angels to work on your children’s behalf, and acknowledge to God that you trust that he is working in their lives. Knowing that a child is struggling with their faith can become a temptation to worry. But as we pray, we are to leave our burdens with God. Praying is your responsibility. Leave the rest to God. He can work it out better than you could anyway!

Accept the Tension

When your child’s lifestyle doesn’t match their upbringing, or more importantly, God’s Word, it’s okay that communication is strained or tense. Many times, I get a sense of anxiety or nervousness before reaching out to my wayward kids. Lately, I have overcome this by praying before texting or picking up the phone. Scripture encourages us to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything through prayer and supplication I am to make my request known to God (Phil 4:6-7).” Try praying something like, “Lord, you understand where my child is in their walk with you. I pray that you guide our conversation. Let me say what you want me to say. Let me stay silent on those matters that you want me to stay silent. Help me to bring your love and light to this conversation.”

When you do this, then the second half of the above scripture can come to pass…”the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep and guard your heart.” The tension you experience brings you to your knees. The tension they experience, God will use it to draw them back to himself.

One of the places I’ve learned this in a most practical way is as a small group leader at church. We are taught that it’s okay to have a silence when the invitation to share in our small group has been given. Don’t jump in and “fill the space” with empty words just because it feels awkward. Allow the Holy Spirit room to work even in the awkward silences. Remember, he is a still small voice.

Learning to let go in the best of circumstances can be difficult. We have been constant stewards over our children so letting them move forward on their own is no easy task. It’s even more difficult when the result seems to be a denial of their faith. However, when we let God be God and offer ourselves as his humble servants, then we can experience peace in the process while he does what only he can do working behind the scenes.

About the author — Kim Sullivan

Kim Sullivan is a writer with a background in everything from homeschooling to nonprofit management. She has raised three children each of whom are successful in their own unique way. Recently, Kim has done the most radical and risky thing she has ever done…she moved 700 miles from her suburban Chicago home and everything familiar to her and relocated to Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is working on a brand-new website and blogs at Journey to Epiphany. She is also writing a book about her adventures in following Jesus.

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