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Reach Out to Your Prodigal Child

Reach Out to Your Prodigal Child

Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Brendan O'Rourke, Ph.D. and DeEtte Sauer's book, The Hope of a Homecoming: Entrusting Your Prodigal to a Sovereign God, (NavPress, 2003).

Has your child walked away from God, and you, in rebellion? No matter what destructive experiences your prodigal son or daughter is involved in – drug or alcohol addiction, crime, dangerous romantic liaisons, occult involvement, or anything else that breaks your heart – there’s still hope. As long as your child is alive, you can reach out to him or her.

Here’s how you can reach out to your prodigal child:

Surrender your heart and mind to God. Honestly express your thoughts and feelings about your estranged child as you pray. Give your pain to God and ask Him to work in your life to accomplish something good out of a bad situation. Trust that God is in ultimate control of both your life and your child’s life, and that He cares deeply about both of you. Decide that you want a relationship with God even more than you want your child to come home. Make growing closer to God your top priority, and remember that He will guide you with wisdom if you do.

Ask for more faith. Don’t be afraid to admit to God that you need more faith; He knows anyway, and is glad to answer when you ask for more. Tell God that you want to sense His presence in your life, and you need reassurance that He’s at work in your child’s life, as well. Humbly ask for the courage you need for this journey.

Be persistent. Keep praying for your prodigal child, even when you don’t see any progress in his or her life. Remember that God is constantly at work behind the scenes.

Keep a prayer journal. As often as you can, write down your prayers and how God has responded to them. Read your journal entries regularly to remind yourself of how God is working in your life.

Build a prayer team. Seek out a few people you can trust who don’t condemn or shun you because you have a prodigal child, and genuinely want to support you. Ask these people to pray for you and your family regularly. Give them specific requests, share answers to prayer, and thank them.

Identify your emotions. Understand that you can find relief and direction more easily if you can put what you’re experiencing into words. Whenever something bothers you, think and pray about it to discern what emotion it triggers in you (guilt, shame, fear, anger, sadness, etc.). Ask God to help you recognize your emotions and learn how to respond to them in healthy ways.

Develop coping strategies. Calm down when dealing with a stressful situation. Don’t sin just because you’re upset; make time to think about how to respond wisely to your prodigal child’s behavior instead of simply reacting to it. Consider what can do if the worst happens to your child, so you’ll be equipped to handle that scenario if it ever should occur. Surround yourself with people who encourage you, and remind yourself of God’s reassuring promises from the Bible.

Release guilt and shame. Avoid people who make you feel shameful for having a prodigal child. Let go of the desire to blame yourself, another person, or God for what has happened to your child. Realize that worrying won’t do anything to help either you or your child. Whenever you catch yourself worrying, turn your worry into a prayer that can actually do some good. Let your guilt point you to issues you need to address (such as confessing sin and learning from mistakes). But once you’ve dealt with those issues, don’t let guilt control your life.

Conquer fear. Let your fear draw you closer to God by causing you to rely on Him more. Ask God to reassure you of His constant presence with you. Pray specifically about each fear that’s haunting you, asking God to help you with each one and give you peace through the process. Recognize that every fear is just a shadow that will disappear in the power of God’s light.

Use your anger constructively. Don’t succumb to bitterness or rage, which will only harm you. Instead, respond to your anger in ways that will help you. Pray for the wisdom you need to deal with your anger wisely. Make a list of everything you’re angry about. Express your concerns to a trusted friend or family member, and ask what that person thinks would happen if you told your prodigal child your feelings. Decide whether or not to express your feelings to your child on the basis of whether or not you think doing so will have a positive effect on your relationship. Find physical ways to release tension, such as exercise or a massage. Confess your inadequacy to handle your anger without God’s help, and ask God to help you do so. Generate options for using your anger to solve problems. Change what you can change, and stop trying to change what you can’t change. Recognize the pattern in how you usually respond to anger, and work to learn more effective responses. Consider attending seminars or meeting with a trained counselor to get fresh ideas. List all your resentments (small and large), and ask God to free you from each of them. Don’t let anger destroy what is good in your life. Pray for the peace that only comes from God.

Grieve your losses. List what you’ve lost because of your prodigal child’s rebellion. Reflect on the impact those losses has had on your life. Then assess what’s left, and appreciate it (for example, if you have other children who are close to God, be grateful for that and invest yourself in their lives). Ask yourself what’s possible for you now, in light of your losses. Choose to rely on God’s grace and mercy and trust that God still cares for both you and your prodigal child. Never give up praying for your child, no matter how hopeless his or her current circumstances seem to be. Remember that God can transform even the worst circumstances into miraculous healing, so offer your circumstances – and your child’s – to Him.

Pray for protection. Realize that your prayers are like missiles that can be aimed at intercepting the dangers threatening your prodigal child. Pray regularly for your child’s protection from illicit sex, alcohol addiction, false religions, deceitful money schemes, and other destructive forces. Ask for protection from temptation, evil, people who do evil, negative influences, Satan, sin, and wrong thinking. Be persistent, praying for the God to intervene in every situation that comes to your mind. Trust God to use the bad experiences your prodigal child goes through to open his or her eyes to the truth and guide him or her toward wiser decisions. Please your child’s case before God, remembering that He is merciful. Believe that God is reaching out to your child, even when you can’t see that happening.

Plead for repentance. Pray that your prodigal child will repent, choose to seek God passionately, overcome pride and lies, and surrender control of his or her life to Jesus’ wisdom and care. Ask God to help your child hear God calling, recognize and admit his or her sin, feel the pain of separation from God’s love, turn away from sin and toward God, be willing to become wise with God’s help, and change for the better. Make sure you’re regularly repenting of what you need to repent of in your own life before interceding for your child’s repentance. Continue to offer your prodigal child unconditional love, if you’re in contact with him or her.

Wait faithfully. Ask God to help you overcome impatience as you wait for your prodigal child to return to Him and you. Understand that, because it took time for your child to get into trouble in the first place, it will likely take some time for him or her to get out of trouble. Know that true and lasting character transformation requires wisdom that can only come about from patiently dealing with painful experiences. Give your child time to sort out his or her failures. Wait to see what God wants to do in his or her life. Rather than struggling with the silence while you wait, embrace it by listening and praying in the midst of it.

Recognize the value in a crisis. View each crisis you go through as an opportunity to learn and grow stronger. Let crises teach you not take anything in life for granted. Be grateful for every blessing you have – even the simplest ones – and give up trying to control what you can’t control. As your prodigal child’s attitudes or behaviors expose ugliness in your own life (such as negativity, self-indulgence, or a tendency to avoid problems), honestly examine those issues and pursue healing for them.

Gain a new perspective. Ask God to give you fresh insight into yourself and a bigger view of your prodigal child’s life. Realize that your child will probably have plenty of opportunities to change over time. Give up your emotional investment in getting the outcome you’ve imagined, and decide to trust God to bring about the outcome He has planned. Thank God for making you a better person through your challenges and suffering. Ask Him to use any means necessary to build strong character in your prodigal child. Notice all the ways God is intervening in your life right now, even if you still haven’t received answers for some of your most heartfelt prayers about your child. Pray for God to give you a glimpse of the future blessings He has in store for both you and your prodigal child. Understand that your child is not a final product right now, but a work in progress. Ask God to help you relax through the process of change that must occur over time.

Prepare for the possibility that your child may not return. Face the reality that there’s no guarantee your prodigal child will return to God or to you, because he or she has free will. Continue to pray for your child as long as he or she is alive. But if the worst happens and your child dies without returning, realize that you must let go of him or her and move on with your life. Don’t let the tragedy prevent you from experiencing joy in other ways. Trust God to give you the peace you need. Give your energy to people who can receive it.

Prepare for a return. Be ready to celebrate if your prodigal child returns. But don’t expect a complete return right away, realizing that it will likely take time and occur in stages. Don’t smother your returning child by trying to force your will on him or her. Instead, simply offer forgiveness and unconditional love, with God’s help. Maintain respect for your child’s right to choose his or her own path. If your child relapses into rebellious decisions, just take one scenario at a time and do whatever is required to deal wisely with it. Walk with your child through his or her brokenness, and remember that God is walking alongside both of you. Ask God to help you deal with unresolved feelings over your child’s time away (such as your hurt over cruel words that your child said, or shame when you remember all that led up to your child’s departure). Rely on God’s help to work through any unfinished business between you and your child. Be patient and remember that God isn’t finished with either or you as people yet.

Reconcile. If your prodigal child returns, seek to build a new, closer relationship. Surrender your defenses and work diligently to rebuild trust. Learn to relax when you’re together. Pray for God to heal all the resentments that had stood between you in the past. Ask Him to help you communicate well now. Keep forgiving each other whenever you hurt each other. Help each other in times of trouble. Get to know each other better. Celebrate the gift of this new time you have together!

Adapted from The Hope of a Homecoming: Entrusting Your Prodigal to a Sovereign God, copyright 2003 by Brendan O’Rourke and DeEtte Sauer. Published by NavPress, Colorado Springs, Co.,

Brendan O’Rourke, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist with twenty-five years of professional experience. She leads marriage and parenting seminars for businesses, schools, and churches. A popular speaker, Brendan has given more than a thousand presentations on such topics as effective communication, trauma resolution, grief and loss, suicide prevention, and stress management. Dr. O’Rourke is a member of the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology, a clinical member of the American Group Psychotherapy Association, and in the National Registry of Who’s Who 2000. As chief of the Pain Management Clinic, Veterans Affairs Medical Center Hospital, Houston, Dr. O’Rourke implemented innovative ideas, reorganizing a key psychological service to veterans. She has appeared on numerous radio and television programs as an expert guest. Married to Dan O’Rourke, a media producer and broadcast journalist, Dr. O’Rourke has four children and a grandson.

DeEtte Sauer walked out on a successful broadcasting career to follow the Lord into an independent study program in human behavior. She has worked in the addiction recovery field and helped establish a chemical abuse team for an organization that aids abused and neglected children. In addition, she taught behavior modification classes for large corporations such as Coca-Cola, Pennzoil, and Kelsey Seybold Health Clinics. A vital force in an inner-city mission and a local prison ministry, she has a heart for the disadvantaged. DeEtte and her husband, George, have two adult daughters and four grandchildren. She is a master’s swimmer, 200l Texas state champion in four events, and a bronze medalist in the 2001 National Senior Games.