The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11 – 31) is a familiar one to many — sometimes because we’ve been the person who has broken our parent’s heart ourselves, other times because we are that hurting parent.
The principle message of the story is that, from the perspective of God our Father, ALL of us are prodigal sons, running away from His love and goodness, grace and mercy. Some of us, realizing that we no longer want to feed pigs anymore, decide to come back to our Father’s house. And like the man in the story who watches constantly for his son’s return, God enfolds us in His arms and love, announcing to all that His child “was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15: 31)
When the Prodigal Is Yours
Some people live this parable in real time, and it lasts a lot longer than nine paragraphs in the Bible. If this is your story, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1) “Where did we go wrong?” That’s the first question we ask ourselves, and while it’s a valid one, it’s also one to answer promptly, honestly, and competently, and not to spend time wallowing in.
Of course you made mistakes — all humans do. Ask God to guide you in being aware of those mistakes, correct whatever is necessary, and move on. Prodigals happen in the best of families as well as in the worst, and you can find some measure of comfort in recognizing that the first Prodigal Son and Daughter were Adam and Eve.
Where Is Everybody?
2) You find out who your friends are. When times get tough, some people draw closer to us, and others run away. This isn’t surprising, but what generally floors us is that often, the people we thought we could count on, we can’t, and those we barely knew existed, are right there by our side.
The one who never leaves us is God Himself, who says, in various ways throughout the Bible, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13: 5, based upon Deuteronomy 31: 6)
Don’t Be Hasty
3) This probably didn’t happen overnight. While the actual crisis may seem sudden and unexpected, most situations take time to develop. Proverbs 14: 17 tells us,
“A quick-tempered man does foolish things,” and 19: 2 warns, “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.”
Don’t be pushed to make fast, rash decisions with potentially irrevocable ramifications.
4) There are other people, who need you, in your life. If there are additional children, especially still in the home, don’t force them to live their lives constantly in the shadow of their sibling’s actions. Yes, you are brokenhearted, but your youngest child’s birthday is coming up, and she deserves a celebration.
The prodigal son of Jesus’ story physically left, and while his father never stopped looking for his return, he also didn’t stop living his own life. He had a farm to run, and at least one other child.
It’s a toss-up whether it’s easier to have the prodigal out of sight and far away, or near enough that you are constantly updated as to the latest scrape, but either way, there’s not much you can do for someone who isn’t listening and doesn’t want to change direction right now. You major activity is to pray.
Forgiveness Isn’t Easy
5) This is a great opportunity to learn, firsthand, what forgiveness means. There will be people who encourage you to deal harshly with the prodigal, summarily rejecting him or her because they are “sinful and rebellious,” and your duty as a Christian demands that you show tough love.
Tough love is tough not because it’s grim and rigid, but because it’s painfully difficult. (It’s also a pop psychology phrase that you don’t find in the Bible.)
Luke 17: 3 tells us, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times, comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
By all means, lock your house, put away money and charge cards, protect yourself from your prodigal when they are in an untrustworthy state, but always remember — this is your child. Ultimately, you don’t want to sever them from the possibility of ever having a relationship with you, when they come back to their senses.
Things Take Time
6) Healing — on your part and the prodigal’s — takes time. A wise woman, who endured many painful years loving a child determined to make excruciating decisions, told me,
“Proverbs 22: 6 tells us that when we train a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not turn from it.
“Did you see the part about, ‘when he is old’? It may take awhile.”
It’s not easy being the parent of a prodigal — don’t let anyone, ever, prevail you into thinking that it is. Lean on God, not your own understanding (Proverbs 3: 5); don’t give up (Galatians 6: 9); and remember that love — God’s love — never fails.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. When I read the Bible, sometimes I stop before I open the book and remind myself,
“The stuff in here is actually true.” It’s amazing what kind of perspective that gives you.
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