Parents Of Prodigals

My husband and I have experienced the reality of knowing, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” 3 John 4 Our two daughters professed Christ at an early age, witnessed in their schools, traveled on mission trips, and embarked into adult life with a passion for Christ. Our family life has been built around joy and laughter; and even through the teen years, we enjoyed close family times backpacking and ministering together here and abroad. The girls have been characterized as leaders, constantly encouraging and challenging those around them to live their Christian beliefs.

It always brought us great joy knowing that our children were walking in the truth. Then one bought into a lie. Now we see the flip side to the above verse; there is no greater sorrow than seeing your children walk in a lie. Since our daughter’s ungodly choices, we have grieved for the loss of our close family relationships, for our witness in our community and family, over the eventual consequences of her decisions, and even grieved that God would allow this to happen.

Our joy, peace, energy, and focus have been drained and replaced with despair, anger, fatigue and distractedness. We have been plagued by questions. How could this happen? What should we do? What would influence her? How should we respond? Our close family was thrown into crisis; joy turned to sorrow, and lies twisted truth. The parable of the prodigal son has become a real and personal journey with a precious, yet prodigal, daughter.

At one point in this heavy journey, I had a mental picture of us facing our prodigal daughter, she standing with her back to us. We were pleading and begging for her to turn around, listen to God’s Word, and recognize the lies. Then the focus shifted and God was standing behind me, my back turned to Him, and He was calling me to turn around and to recognize the lies. God was trying to get my attention while I was trying to get my daughter’s attention. Her lies were different from mine, but nonetheless I had also been ensnared by lies. God was pleading with me to recognize and accept His truth in my own life.

God’s truth needs to be sorted from the enemy’s lies.

I cannot allow my daughter’s actions to define me, but I can, through God’s help, allow them to refine me. Through godly counsel and His Word, the truth is being sifted from the enemy’s subtle and pervasive lies. The refinement process is not complete, but I have identified, examined, and discarded the following lies:

Lie #1: What if?

The enemy loves to get us into the “what if” or blame game. What if I had been more persuasive? What if I had counseled her with more studied words? What if I had been more discerning? What if I had just been a better mom? I was consumed with analyzing every nuance over the past years, reviewing my interactions, and questioning my role as both mother and wife.

My analytical thoughts became paralyzing and I spiraled downward into a pit of remorse and inadequacy. Slowly through the slime, I began to see that it is not all about me. My eloquence or lack of it, my parenting skills or lack of them, will not ultimately change a heart. That is the Holy Spirit’s job. I can be obedient to God’s direction. I can do the best I can in parenting and counseling. But the ultimate work is God’s. My pleas will not bring a prodigal into right thinking, right living, or right decisions.

Our daughter made this choice in spite of Scripture, godly models, and counsel, and she will also reap the consequences of her choice. Ezekiel 18:20 reminds us that “…the son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.” I can neither accept the blame nor take the credit. The “what ifs” must cease because they are not from God.

Lie #2: If you parent well enough, your child will not make ungodly choices.

When my daughter turned away from her firm foundation, I questioned how this could happen to my family. Subconsciously and incorrectly, I presumed that Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” guaranteed a child’s godly choices. The Lord showed me, through my own heartache, that I have wrongly judged others and their parenting ability. I thought if someone had a child not walking with the Lord, it was always a direct reflection on their parenting skills. Now on the other side with a wayward daughter, I realize the lie and repent of my judgment of others. Godly parenting does not guarantee a godly child.

Lie #3: My prodigal adult child disqualifies me for ministry.

One of the qualifications listed in 1 Tim. 3:4 for an overseer is to “manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.” This does not refer to adult children. But Satan wants to fuel our insecurities, have us focus on our inadequacies, and cripple our ministries. Instead of stepping out of ministry, we should step up to be used by God. The more open and transparent we are in our parenting journey, the more dependent we are on Him for strength, and the more opportunities there will be for us to minister.

During the painful times of answering concerned inquires about our daughter, has emerged a new openness for those sharing similar burdens. One embarrassing instance of addressing pointed questions at a neighborhood party resulted in a phenomenal opportunity to share God’s truth. Leadership is not about being perfect individuals. It is about being humbly obedient and available. Transparency and vulnerability can make us better servant ministers.

Lie #4: God is powerless to intervene.

Somewhere in this extended battle, I crossed the line from believing God would not act to believing God could not act. I fell prey to the lie that God could not change our daughter’s mind or way. My personal systematic theology had me spinning in circles around God’s sovereignty and the free will of man. The Lord had chosen to not answer my fervent prayers to radically intervene in our daughter’s life. Since faith and hope are intricately entwined, I was hopeless.

My view of God was too small. I do not understand how God’s sovereignty and free will work, but I have become convinced that God is so much bigger than we can ever imagine. He can and will intervene if He so chooses. This mom needs to trust more, worry less, and stop trying to figure everything out. He is God and I am not! My God, our God, is a God of hope that fills us with all joy and peace as we trust in Him (Rom. 15:13), and He is more than able to do great things.

This mother’s journey in parenting a prodigal is far from over. The hurt and sadness are still very real and close. But as the Lord has revealed the insidiousness of the enemy’s lies, the burden has become more manageable. Now I can focus on what I am learning and not on what my daughter should be learning. This was reiterated during a recent visit. We were scheduled to rendezvous with our precious prodigal after church.

The sermon was unexpectedly all too relevant: “Grace Demands a Death.” The pastor pointed out that if we are to extend grace, as Christ did, we must also experience death. As parents, we need to die to our dreams, our desires, and our expectations for our children. We need to love them unconditionally, expecting nothing in return. Still stirred from this poignant message, we exited the church building and saw our daughter standing on the far side of the parking lot.

My husband ran to our cold, stiff daughter, standing sullenly by the car, and wrapped her in a warm, loving hug. That was our best visit to date! My hope has been renewed; He is restoring my soul. Like Habakkuk, I will wait and keep watch from the ramparts to see what the Lord will do. God is in control and He loves us and our prodigals dearly. author unknown

As a mother of a prodigal, I found this article very truthful and helpful. To all parents of prodigals I say, "Don't look inward, behind or forward- just keep looking up!"

“Bear one another burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” Galatians 6:2

By Glenys Hicks of Morning Cuppas With Glenys


JTR said...

I love this article. I don't know if you will ever know this side of heaven what your candor has wrought here on earth in the broken hearts of moms and dad. I love two specific things about your article. One - the thought of God behind you...and agreeing - yes, we need to turn to Him and not leave Him during this very real trial of the (my) faith. Secondly, the Lie that your children will not be ungodly if you follow Prov. 22:6. Cain teaches us that...we all have free will...and sin lieth at the door. I wonder how many good bosses who love God and manage in a godly way, would be blamed if one of their employees decided to come in late for work, rip off the company, and then total the company car on a drunken binge? The blame lies with the, as parents, we must do our best, but our best does not guanantee a loving always obedient God fearing child. The child has a God given will of his or her own.

Deborah said...

Such an encouraging post!

rightymo said...

Not to be contrary, but if Prov. 22:6 does not mean what it seems to say, what does it mean? Do you doubt scripture?

Nonetheless, I have learned that rearing children demands much grace, and God is good to provide it. No promise totally depends on whether we "do it right" or not, they are all dependent upon Christ, and given through His sacrifice, but the way to accomplish the promise is to diligently train up our children in the way they should go...this makes the road to success a lot smoother!

Sheila Deeth said...

Many thanks for this. What a lovely and relevant article.

JTR said...

No, but Scripute will not condradict itself. God gives us free will. You can do everything right, and still have a prodigal, because they still have free will. You can raise your child to love God, and they can still choose to reject salvation. Calvinists use this verse to comfort themselves with generational salvation, but the verse is a proverb - a principle that often comes true. It is not a promise that God will violate your child's self will and force them to love and follow Him. All of the Proverbs are wise sayings, but they are not promises that happen 100% of the time. I could give many examples. A proverb, (from the Latin proverbium), is a simple and concrete saying popularly known and repeated, which expresses a truth, based on common sense or the practical experience of humanity.

JTR said...

For examples see this website. It explains what I mean, although I had to struggle with this and came to the same conclusion myself years ago. This example is a good one, but there are many: "...Didn't the Creator handle Adam and Eve with infinite wisdom and love? He made no mistakes in "fathering" them. They were also harbored in a perfect environment with none of the pressures we face. They had no in-law problems, no monetary needs, no frustrating employers, no television, no pornography, no alcohol or drugs, no peer pressure, and no sorrow. They had no excuses! Nevertheless, they ignored the explicit warning from God and stumbled into sin. If it were ever possible to avoid the ensnarement of evil, it would have occurred in that sinless world. But it didn't. God in His love gave Adam and Eve a choice between good and evil, and they abused it. Will He now withhold that same freedom from your children? No. Ultimately, they will make their own choices..."

Anonymous said...

Thank you for explaining that so eloquently, JTR. Blessings!