A spiritually wayward child, it’s become the cancer of the Christian community. To determine the cause of this spiritual disease we leave to the experts, but my words are to offer hope to the parent who waits night and day for her child to reconcile with God. The treatment for the disease (restoration with God) is the easy part; it’s the waiting part that’s difficult—waiting for the wayward to swallow the pill of repentance.
The stark realization of this spiritual malignancy came not long ago during a small prayer gathering. As we prayed; one parent after another unveiled the hidden heartache of a child who went spiritual MIA. Here of late, a quick scan in most North American sanctuaries reveals the absence of young adults who once occupied a pew. Those young adults disappeared into spiritual oblivion. The scary news for parents is this spiritual epidemic knows no boundaries; it strikes its blow on kids raised in the church, kids of church leaders, kids of all denominations, kids raised in youth group, not raised in youth group, kids who attended Christian school, kids who were homeschooled, and on and on. Every parent silently prays that when the spiritual apron strings are cut, their young adult will choose the path of righteousness and not ruin.
The good news is that the prodigal is all part of the love story between us and Jesus. There is glory in the seeming ruin. Parents of prodigals need to be reminded that there is hope. Prodigals are his sheep who strayed from the fold and he is their shepherd.
Remember This: God is Still Wrapping Your Gift
Your prodigal is still that same gift to you from God; she’s still the very one that took your breath the moment she entered this world and within a nanosecond you thought your heart would burst open because of the fullness of love you had for this new bundle in your arms. She’s no longer the wide-eyed girl in pigtails who squealed with delight when you came home from work. But she’s still a gift, a sovereign work in progress. God is still assembling the gift. We tend to forget that gifts don’t always come wrapped in neat packages. Take the gift of Christ, for example, the King of kings arrived swaddled in rags and placed in a manure-stained livestock trough. Oftentimes, the best gifts arrive in the messiest, unassuming wrapping. Often, especially in our consumptive culture, the value of a true gift isn’t appreciated right away. The wayward child, your gift form God, doesn’t see the necessity in her gift of the Rescuer —yet. Help her see the value of the Gift through the simple ways you value her.
Throw off Condemnation
Don’t let the fact that you have a wayward child be the pink elephant in the room. Sanctuaries are filled with people in your same circumstance who could use some support. During the small prayer gathering, the wife of the leader of an international Christian organization boldly asked for prayer for her prodigal. Then suddenly another mother openly shared of her sad journey in dealing with the lifestyle of her wayward.
So shake off the guilt and dump it at the cross. There is a good chance that your parenting didn’t cause your child’s waywardness. If it did, then own up to it, leave it at the cross, and share that parental wisdom with another heartsick parent of a wayward. That prayer gathering was a holy time because we embraced the sadness knowing that help is on the way; the great Rescuer is doing his work in the wayward, just not on our timeline.
Show them Grace
As hard as it may be, show her grace when it seems she deserves reproach− yes, show grace to a daughter who runs from the Rescuer so that she can fill her life with momentary pleasures of this world and when she shows up on your steps greet her with an embrace rather than a scowl. Why? simple, at some point, you lived the life of a spiritual runaway(didn’t we all?) and God pursued us with a passion, until we fell into his arms.
Destitution Leads to Restoration, so Wait and Watch the Love Story Unfold
A person can run from God, pushing Him out of sight (or so she thinks) for so long until God puts up a roadblock, an intervention. At that point, she can’t outrun God. Pastor, author, and prodigal, Tullian Tchividjian points out, “it’s futile to try. It’s impossible to outpace his pursuing affection…He’s always in the position of authority and control, whether we realize it or not.” If you forgot just how relentlessly God pursues his loved ones reread the book of Jonah.
Grab onto Gospel Fellowship (and Don’t Let Go)
The natural inclinations of parent(s) of a prodigal are to first worry, then withdraw and eventually drift into isolation. Elyse M. Fitzpatrick asserts, “We’re called to be people in relationship because our God is a God in relationship. He is three persons in one… Jesus had twelve disciples, but he also had three close friends and one best friend.”
Ask two or three of your friends to gather once a week or every other week for accountability, confession of sin, and prayer. Fitzpatrick calls it “gospelized fellowship.” Christ-centered fellowship arms us with biblical truths. It’s the biblical truths we rely on when the struggles in life leave us wanting to lock the door, draw the shades, and stay in bed. Gospelized friendships point us back to the hope we have in Christ. I intend to practice more of this.
Gulp Down the Gospel (in Heaping Spoonfuls)
If you’ve lived the life of a Christian for any length of time, knowing that we ought to cling to God’s word is, well, so basic that it sounds trite. As years pass, we, unfortunately, forget that we owe our life to the messy, shameful, scandalous crucifixion. Every day I must remind myself “only a supremely powerful deity could turn the world upside down through a bleeding Messiah,” Fitzpatrick. Tchividjian notes the “one expression of God’s amazing grace is that he pursues our rescue even though we cannot do one thing for him.” Not only does he pursue our rescue but rest in the assurance that he also pursues your wayward.
Read and Delight in the Testimonies of Other Prodigals Who Have Returned to the Fold