Prodigals and our Response

I wanted to make a resource available to you today. It is a free download to be used to encourage parents with prodigal children. There is much more that could be written, but this is a beginning. May it be a help to those who read it.

Prodigals and our Response

This is also available on my resource page.

Loving Prodigals

A big part of my heart is reaching prodigals and those who love them.

I am hoping to get a resource for parents done by next week. It is written from the perspective of someone who has not only been there, but continues to be there.

In the meantime my daughter, Anna, introduced me to the music of Lauren Daigle. The song below speaks powerfully to the longing all parents of prodigals feel.

Don’t give up hope. Listen to the following song and know that God loves your prodigal and is ever reaching out to him/her in mercy and grace.

Come Alive – Lauren Daigle

Dealing with Lost Sheep

Broken relationships. We all have them. The church is no exception. How do we respond to people who have wandered out of our lives or out of the church. The easiest solution is to break our ties. To live with someone day after day who is at odds with right behavior and far from God is beyond draining. It costs us emotionally and physically. We can become weary of the battle and sometimes, for our own survival, we cut them out of our lives. Sometimes we call it tough love, but I think it is often simply self-preservation. Question: Where would each of us be if Jesus attitude had been one of self-preservation?

We sometimes write certain people off as unreachable or not worth our time. I would argue those are the very people God came to save.  God sees each one as precious and valuable. Do we have that same insight?

Jesus told the Pharisees a parable in Luke 15:1-7.

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (NASB)

Jesus was putting the religious leaders in the middle of the story. They were the shepherd. Those of us with prodigal children can relate strongly to this scenario. They were under our care when they got lost. Some stay lost a few weeks or months. Some stay lost for years. Some never return. As parents we pray and eventually leave them in God’s good hands knowing that only God can bring them home.

When the opportunities do arise for reconciliation this parable shows us what that would look like. Kenneth E. Bailey in his book “Poet and Peasant” states that “A lost  sheep will lie down helplessly and refuse to budge.” The shepherd  who finds the sheep in this “given up” condition rejoices even though he knows the road ahead will be difficult and painful for both of them. The shepherd must lift the limp sheep onto his shoulders and carry it many miles back to the village.  It is a costly journey. The one who pays the highest price is the shepherd. He will get battered and sore on the painful journey back, but for the sake of the lost sheep, who God loves, he will shoulder the burden. As he finally stumbles back home he gathers the village together to share in his joy that the precious sheep is back.

I don’t have all the answers as I see a need for this scenario to be played out, but I know a great God who can do things I have no power to do. He can help us find those lost sheep in our lives. He can help us carry the lost one back home no matter how far they have  wandered. He can bring restoration and reconciliation where we thought it was impossible.  More than likely  it won’t be instantaneous. Restoration is messy and costly for everyone involved.  Especially for the shepherd.

I am confident God will work in our own hearts as well. Softening them where they need to be softened. Bringing repentance where there needs to be  repentance. Giving wisdom so we can be as tough or as kind as the situation calls for. Hopefully rooting out every sliver of pride in our own heart…because in reality we have all been as lost as those wandering in the wilderness. If we somehow think we are better than those who have gotten themselves in such a state we are sadly mistaken. (Does the story of Jonah ring a bell?)

 “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”(Luke 19:10 NASB)

“It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32 NASB)

(Recommended reading – “The Cross and the Prodigal” by Kenneth E. Bailey)

Prodigal Children (Part 3) – How to Help

Prodigal children.  They seem to be more plentiful these days.  Time after time I am seeing children from solid Christian homes turn their back on their parents’ faith and walk away.  They are not just leaving for a couple months. Many of them have been gone for years. The broken hearted parents are struggling to have hope their prodigal will ever return to the God and family who loves them.

A prodigal can sap all the energy from a family.  Their misdeeds are emotionally and financially draining. The physical toll on parents can also be substantial.  The stress can cause physical illness.

How do we respond? How should we respond? Here are some suggestions.

1.  Don’t quote Proverbs 22:6 to them.  I don’t know how many times people told me, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” They meant it as an encouragement. What I heard was an accusation. “I must not have done it right.”  You need to remember that Proverbs is not a book of promises. Proverbs is a book of principles. It consists of guidelines for wise living. There are many promises in scripture. Proverbs 22:6 is not one of them.

2. Don’t tell them you know their child will turn around.  They just need to be patient.  The hard reality is you don’t know if they will.  There are prodigals in my own family who never did come to faith.  Certainly the hope is there, but some prodigals never repent.  Our job is to pray that they do, but we can’t promise someone they will.

3. Do ask the parents how they are coping.  Often there is concern for the child in trouble when the parents are the ones who are bearing the brunt of all that is going on.

4. Tell the parents you are praying for them and for their child. Don’t ask a lot of questions. Most parents would rather not review the latest trouble with you. If you ask them they will either answer “fine.” (which isn’t true), answer vaguely or won’t answer at all.

5. Give them an opportunity to tell you what their latest struggles are, but don’t ask them a lot of questions. Don’t be offended by silence. They simply might be unable to vocalize the trouble to you. Just that you brought it up can be a comfort to them.

6. Listen when they talk about their child. That they are talking at all is good. I once had a woman ask me how I was doing. When I told her “It’s been a very bad week.” she responded by nodding her head, turning around and walking away. She never asked me that question again.

7. If they have to meet with law enforcement or their child has to go to court, offer to go with them. To have a familiar friend sitting beside you can be the difference between hope and despair.

8. Tell them you are sorry. They are grieving the loss of their hopes and dreams for their child.  Grieving what might have been. They need to know that others are grieving with them.

9. Don’t be afraid to cry with them. I once had a friend call to ask how I was doing.  When I told her the awful things that were going on she didn’t offer advice, she wept with me. Those tears are still precious to me.

10. Don’t make a point of telling them how well your children are doing, or how proud you are of each one. If they do ask about your children, however, tell them the truth. When I was going through the worst of it with one of my children I often called a friend with charming children. I would start the conversation with, “I need to hear about some kids that are doing well.” I meant it, but I was the one to ask. She never brought it up.

11. Don’t tell them what they did wrong. Most people who give advice have no idea what parents are going through. They see a very different picture in public from what goes on at home. Prodigals tend to be very charming in public. They also are very good at twisting reality. I remember sitting at my kitchen table with a nineteen year old who was explaining to me what we were doing wrong. I responded with one or two comments and then silently listened. He obviously believed one side and I didn’t have the strength to explain it all to him. Thankfully he left after about 30 minutes.

12. Continue to include them in things. They feel isolated already. They assume people don’t want to be around them. Even if they decline your invitation, they will be thankful that you thought of them.

13. Above all, pray for them. Pray that they wouldn’t become utterly discouraged. Pray that their focus would shift from their own lack to God’s amazing grace. Pray that their child would turn their heart back to the God who loves them and the family that longs for reconciliation. Pray for the family as they go through some of the hardest days, months or years they will ever know. Pray that they would learn day by day to cling to the God who loves them in spite of their imperfect parenting skills. Most importantly, pray that their joy would be found in God alone, not in their children.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, preserving in tribulation, devoted to prayer, . . . Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” (Romans 12:10-12, 15, 16 NASB)

 

 

Prodigal Children (Part 2)

“Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward.” (Psalm 127:3 NASB)

 

That verse can be a puzzle to a family in crisis.  They have watched this little one turn against them and the God they love with such fierceness it takes their breath away.  What happened to the fairytale picture? And, frankly, this doesn’t seem like much of a gift or a reward.

We all do the job of parenting imperfectly so when our children turn their back on God we blame ourselves. We were either too hard or not hard enough. Whichever side we err on we wish we had gone the other way.

There will also be plenty of people to point out our short comings. Society and the church blame the parents for a troubled child. If only you had loved them more, spoiled them less, given them more rules, given them less rules, loved them unconditionally, set more boundaries, given tough love, built up their self-esteem, given them more responsibility, worked on projects together. You should have given them more freedom and allowed them to be their own person.  The list is endless.

Because of these reactions many parents of prodigals go underground. They know their child is in trouble, but they don’t want to be honest with the church at large because it is so unacceptable.

If you are under the mistaken impression that only bad parents have troubled children let’s look at Genesis 3.  God was a hands on parent. He formed Adam and breathed life into him. He loved Adam and Eve perfectly and unconditionally. They had an extensive father/son project in naming all the animals. He gave them the responsibility of tending and caring for the garden. He gave them many “yesses” and only one “no.” He spent time walking with them in the cool of the day. Then God, the perfect parent, watched his children turn away in rebellion. When confronted Adam tried to shift the blame to Eve and even God. (Gen. 3:12) There is no blaming God for the result. The rebellion was not because of a mistake in parenting.

This is a problem as old as time and yet we still expect children from Christian homes to fall perfectly in line. When they don’t we usually find fault with the parents. In our blame shifting world we forget that our children are ultimately responsible before God for the decisions they make. We as imperfect parents are going to give them plenty of excuses to disobey. But when God says, “Children obey your parents,” there isn’t an escape clause that says “only if your parents are doing it right.”

We are responsible before God to be the best parents we can be. We need God’s daily grace to even come close to that goal. We also must remember that our children are responsible before God to obey. They need God’s daily grace to follow the instructions of imperfect parents.

If you are a parent with a prodigal don’t despair.  The pain you are feeling has been felt by God many times over.  You have something in common with the God who created you.  While your pain is awful it doesn’t compare to what God feels.  He is showing you a bit of His own experience.  I pray that it will cause you to cling to him all the more.

 

 

 

 

Prodigal Children (part 1)

What does prodigal mean?  This is how Merriman/Webster defines it.

Prodigal – “Characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure.”

When I think of children I relate it to how they are “spending” their lives.  They are wasting their lives on temporary treasure.  They are spending their time pursuing anything but the good God who paid an awful price for their soul.

Prodigals come in many packages.  There are those that are blatantly rebellious.  They refuse to follow their parents rules.  Often that leads to being in trouble with the law.  Pursuing physical thrills is high on their agenda which means they are involved in the abuse of drugs, alcohol and sex.

Then there is the previously compliant child who is swept away by the world’s viewpoint and values.  They have “outgrown” their parents values and faith.  They have found something more interesting or compelling to hold their attention.  Their wanderings aren’t as blatant, but they are just as dangerous.

There are some that are doing exceptionally well by the world’s standards, but they have abandoned the faith their parents so carefully taught them. They may be gifted academically, musically and/or physically and their life is spent wastefully on those pursuits.  The talents they were given as a way to glorify God have now become their god.

Finally, there are those who live a double life of sorts.  They come to church and may even be quite involved, but their hearts are somewhere else.  They are like the Pharisees who knew how to appear righteous, but their hearts were sick. They are spending their lives on religious check lists in public and their own passions in private.  This verse sums it up. “Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for me consists of tradition learned by rote.” (Isaiah 29:13 NASB)

We tend to think of the first example as prodigals.  We don’t often classify the others the same way. All of them are in danger.  All of them need to turn to the God who made them.

If we are honest there is a prodigal of sorts in all of us.  We are wastefully spending our short and precious life on many things that have nothing to do with God.  Just maybe, watching our own children pull fiercely away from God will cause us to cling to God more passionately.

“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18 NASB)