When I was 18, I walked away from the church. I became a prodigal child. It was a shock to my family and friends because not only did I grow up in the church, I loved being a part of the church. Unfortunately, I had allowed bitterness from a past experience to well up inside of me until it had total control over me. And I walked away.
I remember sitting in my parents house with the pastor of their church explaining to him my laundry list of grievances against the local church. And I told him I was never coming back.
And I didn’t. For about five years. Then, by God’s grace, I came back more passionate about Jesus and His church than ever before.
It’s not uncommon for teenagers to walk away from the church. In fact, it’s a serious problem. I thank God that He brought me back into the fold. And I’m sure if you are a parent of a prodigal child, that’s exactly what you want to see too.
My parents played an instrumental role in my coming back to church. And you can too.
Here are four things you can do to love your prodigal child.
#1 Take An Inventory Of Your Own Life
This first step is the hardest of them all. Ask yourself, “What kind of legacy of faith am I leading?” Are there mistakes that you have made that you need to confess and ask forgiveness for?
There is a strong correlation between parents repenting and parents developing strong relationships with their kids. I write about it briefly here.
Often times it’s not Jesus that teenagers reject, but the poor example of His followers. It’s true that none of us is perfect. And it’s true that we’re all going to let our kids down. But are we modeling humility? Are we quick to repent? Or do we seek to justify our mistakes and explain away our short-comings?
The most important thing we can do to love our prodigal children is to assess the quality of our own walk with the Lord.
#2 Learn From Your Child
Seeing your child reject the faith you keep is an agonizing thing. The natural thing to do is argue. “Here’s why what you’re doing isn’t smart! Here’s the danger of living the way you’re living! And here’s why what you’re doing isn’t wise and you need to change your ways!”
I get it. It’s an emotional situation.
But honestly, arguments do more to distance the relationship than they do to bring them close.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t warn your children of the consequences of their decisions. And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t teach your kids biblical truth–even when they don’t want to hear it. You absolutely should.
What I’m saying is that there is immense value in learning from your child.
Have an honest conversation with them. Why are they making the choices they are making? Do they think they are wise decisions or not? Can they see why you are concerned?
It is vitally important to create a safe space for your children. A place where they know they can be heard. A place where they know they are loved unconditionally no matter what.
It’s from this place of love and solidarity that meaningful conversations arise and true progress is made.
#3 Spend Quality Time Together
Sometimes when we are emotionally involved in a situation, it is very easy to get tunnel vision. Where the only thing we see is the big elephant in the room. And all we can seem to discuss is how big the elephant is!
Often times this results in emotional burn out. And that doesn’t serve either of you well.
So take a step back. Ignore the elephant for a minute. Spend quality time together.
What does your child like to do? Go to the ball game. See the new movie. Attend a concert. Work on strengthening your relationship in every way possible. Because what matters most when it comes to loving your prodigal child is that you create a strong bond of unity and trust that can lead to a positive outcome.
#4 Pray Without Ceasing
This point is not fourth because it ranks fourth in importance. If that were the case, then this would be point number one. This is the most important point of all and should not be neglected.
Paul writes in Ephesians 6,
We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12, ESV)
There is more to this life than what your five senses reveal. We are all in the midst of spiritual conflict. Spiritual warfare. And it’s absolutely true when it comes to the faith of your children.
Ultimately we rely on God to grip our kids hearts. And that makes prayer essential.
I’m convinced the only reason I came back to my faith is because my mom and dad stayed awake many nights praying for me. They had my family praying for me. They had all their friends praying for me. And they had the church praying for me.
There were people praying for me that I’m not even aware of to this day.
And God heard those prayers. God answered those prayers.
And God still hears and answers prayers.
Pray for your prodigal child.
It’s Never Too Late
Just a word of encouragement for those of you who are living this reality right now. It’s hard. It’s heart-breaking. There are so many questions running through your mind. How can this happen? Why my child? Maybe you’re blaming yourself.
I don’t know your specific situation. I don’t know your child. But what I do know is that nothing is impossible with God.
God’s grace can redeem any person from any situation–and that includes your son or daughter! It was true in my own life, and it has proved true in the lives of countless others. So, never give up hope because God is a God of grace, and His grace can touch even those who farthest from Him!
Let the testimony of Paul be an encouragement to you today.
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17, ESV)