Friday

Staying Sane While Parenting a Prodigal

Mother’s Day has come and gone. 

Thank God, some women say. 

You may have noticed them wiping their eyes in church while the sweet, sappy, I love you, Mom, you’re the best! video played. They weren’t crying because they were touched by the sentimentality of the footage. They were crying because their hearts were breaking. 

They were wondering if they’d ever hear their adult children say I love you, Mom again. They were looking at someone else’s child holding up a finger-painted card and wondering what went wrong with their own. They were watching the gangly preteen read a carefully written prayer thanking God for mothers and remembering their own children’s most recent words, which were anything but thankful. And instead of hurrying to collect their children from the nursery after service, they rushed home hoping to find a message on their voice mail.

And they were disappointed.

Again. 

They are the mothers of prodigals. If you are one of the ones who cried during the video for all the wrong reasons, I have six things to say to you. 

1.  God cries for prodigals, too. He wept over Jerusalem, which he longed to gather to his breast, and he wept over adulterous Gomer, whom he wanted to heal and restore. God weeps for your children, too. 

2.  God is sovereign over rebellion. Jonah was running hard away from God. Hard. But God saw him, pursued him, chastised him, and won him back. 

“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up” (Jonah 1:3-4). 

“. . . But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights (v. 17). 

God knows exactly where your child is, and he can engineer circumstances large and small to pursue him and win him back. Sometimes it’s the goodness of God that leads men to repentance, and sometimes it’s judgment. We can trust God to know which is most effective. 

3.  There are no perfect parents. At night the voices whisper loudly. You lost your temper—a lot. You didn’t pray enough. You didn’t take them to church enough. You took them to church too often. You sent them to private school. You sent them to Christian school. You homeschooled them. It’s all your husband’s fault; if you’d married someone else it would have been different. 

These are all lies. 

Adam and Eve had a perfect parent, and they still chose to go their own way. James 1:14 explains how each bears the responsibility for his own choices and his own sin—including our prodigal children. “But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” 

4.  God can use the sins of others (including you) to accomplish his purpose in your child’s life. If you have sinned against your child (and we all have, either intentionally or unintentionally), God is sovereign even over that sin. If someone else has sinned against your child, God is sovereign over that as well. 

Some of us came to Christ late and lived a godless example in front of our children. Although we’ve repented, forsaken, and asked forgiveness of God and our children, we find it hard to forgive ourselves. Other times we see events in our children’s lives outside our control and wonder if those events pushed them over the prodigal precipice. 

The story of Joseph should give us hope. Listen to what he said to his brothers as they stood before him in guilt and fear over their sinful actions: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives,” (Gen 50:20). 

Joseph understood that while God didn’t cause the sin that changed his life forever, he was able to use the sin to accomplish something good. He can do the same for our children. 

5. God can restore and redeem your prodigal. The apostle Paul gives me great hope. He spent a significant portion of his life far from God doing wicked things. When God saved him however, he turned the world upside down for Christ.

“And I will restore to you the years the locust has eaten,” (Joel 2:25). 

6.  Your prodigal should not steal your joy or faith. There will be times when you feel as though your heart is breaking. When you wonder if you can climb out of bed and face another day. When your thoughts and mind are consumed with thoughts of your prodigal child. Where is he? Is she safe? Who is he with? These thoughts are normal and should be our impetus to pray—and pray hard. 

If we allow our children’s rebellion to strip us of our faith and joy, however, we might be guilty of idolatry. Am I worshiping my children instead of worshiping God? Do I value them so much that their absence can strip me of my faith? Of my ability to experience joy? Of my desire to serve and worship God? 

Some of the darkest times of my parenting life have also been some of the sweetest times of my spiritual life. When I come to God broken, helpless, frightened, and weak, he meets me there. He speaks words of healing to my heart. He becomes my mighty warrior. He quiets my frightened spirit and strengthens my trembling soul. When I feel as though everything precious has been stripped away, I discover that the greatest treasure remains. 

The prophet Habakkuk describes what steadfast faith looks like: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior,” (Hab. 3:17-18). 

Brokenhearted mama, it’s OK to cry. But cry in the arms of your Savior. Don’t be afraid to ask him for great and mighty things on behalf of your child. Trust him for a miracle. 

And remember that nothing is too hard for him.

 


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6 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for the post. I never thought that I'd find myself the mother of a prodigal. After pouring my life into hers, I wrongly believed that I could train and disciple the sinful nature from her. Heartbreaking for sure! I have begun to realize #6. I cannot let the situation steal my joy. I am closer to the Lord than I have been in years. Thank you again!

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    1. Praying for your dear one right now, Jennifer.

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    1. You're most welcome, friend.

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  3. Please post more encouraging words like this. And thank you for writing about a heartbreak that rarely addressed in the pulpits.

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    1. Bea, I'm so glad the Lord used my words to encourage you. May God glorify himself in and through your family.

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