Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

How Do You Respond to a Prodigal Child?

  • blogspot for Dena Johnson of Dena's Devos
  • Updated Feb 09, 2022

young man with backpack standing in dark fog on college campus, affirmations for parents of prodigal child

Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 4:6-9

When your kids were little, did you talk about scripture? Did you take them to church? Did you read the Bible stories to your kids? Did you weave God into your conversations? Did you model a relationship with Christ? 

Maybe you did. I hope you did. I know I did. My kids often told the neighborhood kids to be prepared for me to "go biblical" on them. I was accused of turning everything--every book, every movie, every situation--into a biblical lesson. I certainly feel like there could have been worse accusations. 

Maybe you weren't in the same place I was spiritually. Maybe you had wandered from the truth and scripture wasn't anywhere near your lips. Maybe you had yet to have a relationship with the Father and therefore couldn't share what you didn't have.

Here's the thing: whether you were the parent who went biblical on your kids or you were the parent who didn't know God, it is very possible you are (or will be) raising a prodigal.

Encouraging, huh? 

Sadly, it is true. We can do everything right and still face the pain of watching our children wander from their firm foundations. So what do we do while we wait for our children to return?

Keep Loving

Sometimes it's hard to love someone when they become so rebellious. At least, sometimes it's hard to show that love. But it is love that softens even the hardest heart. This doesn't mean that you don't set boundaries, but I am a firm believer in the power of love. 

When my kids were younger, it was often hard to bear the entire burden of raising kids, but I always said what kept me going was the promise that one day my kids would look back and know who sacrificed everything for them. They would know who loved them through the hard days, who was always there when they needed someone. Today, I am beginning to see and hear that reality shining through as my kids spread their wings and become their own people. They know there's always a soft place to land, and nothing they say or do will ever end my love for them. 

That's a security everyone needs in their lives.

Keep Watching

Last year, we went to see Jesus at the Sight and Sound Theaters in Branson. During the performance, we saw the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). Each and every day, the father went outside, looked off in the distance, scanning the horizon to see if his son was coming home. I'm sure that's why the father saw his son while he was still a long way off. 

If you watch closely, you will see the evidence of the Father working in their lives. You will hear the foundations you have laid as they speak. You will see glimpses of the child you raised all those years. If you keep watching, you will see God's hand as He lovingly guides them back to Him and to you.

Keep Praying

I think of the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18. The unjust judge finally gave in simply because of her persistence. The passage ends with this phrase: So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! 

I have seen the importance of praying for those who we love. Sometimes our prayers aren't answered the way we want them to be answered, the way we think they should be answered. But I have seen prayers answered in ways I never thought possible--and God's way is always best!

Keep Trusting

I know sometimes it's hard to keep trusting, to hold onto our faith. But, can I ask you to look back over your life? Can you remember a time when God came through? Can you remember how He kept you safe, how He provided for you in some remarkable way? Can you see His faithfulness? 

Hold onto those memories. Just as the Israelites always left stones of remembrance, keep those memories of God's work in your life at the forefront of your mind. As you remember His faithfulness, you will find it easier to trust Him.

Can I share a little secret? I know it is absolutely heart-breaking to watch your kids wander from their foundation. But, what if this period of rebellion will actually strengthen their faith? What if it's an opportunity to solidify their beliefs? What if your kids are set to emerge stronger than you ever imagined? 

What if this time of running away from the faith is an opportunity for God to leave the 99 sheep and run after the one--an opportunity for Him to demonstrate just how much He loves your prodigal? 

I have always said I hoped my kids would walk through a period of questioning their faith, of sowing their wild oats. I would much rather see them question what they believe and why they believe it when they are young instead of when they are older, married, and have so much at stake. I've often wondered what would have happened if my ex-husband would have questioned his faith when he was in his 20s rather than at 40.

I know it's hard--incredibly hard--to watch as your kids make their own choices, live their own lives (especially if their choices take them away from the faith). But, I encourage you to hang in there. See the positive side that when they come through this period, their faith can be stronger than you imagined. Be the father in Luke 15, waiting, watching, hoping for his child's return.

And when your child comes home, rejoice! Throw a party! Let the world know that your child has come home! 

And rest in the promise that the Heavenly Father still has your child firmly in His hands, pursuing relentlessly, loving unconditional, orchestrating events to bring your child home. 

 Photo Credit: © Unsplash/Alex Jones