This Amazing Life
You wanted your child to have this amazing life. You planned and dreamed, scrimped and saved, and made sacrifices daily to give it to him. As he grew, you exhorted, rebuked, and instructed him in righteousness the best you knew how; never perfectly, but always with a heart that wanted him to love the Lord, love others, and walk in obedience.
Now, he’s grown and out in the world. And he does not have that amazing life. He does not know the Lord, does not walk in obedience, and loves himself above anyone else. He is lost. That life that you poured yourself out to give him; the one you knew would bring glory to God, and be the absolute best life he could have, is not reality. You watch him make foolish decision after foolish decision, and a little piece of your heart seems to crumble with each one. He does not have the life you dreamed of. In fact, the life he is living is one you would pour yourself out all over again to pull him out of. But you cannot.
You cannot change what he is doing, nor the choices he is making. What you can do—what many “prodigal moms” do—is decide not to know. Don’t ask, don’t tell is the attitude where many moms and dads have found safety and protection from the sorrow they feel each time they learn of another foolish choice or harmful habit. It’s just easier not to know. So, they keep a surface relationship with their rebel child. They don’t ask the deep questions, or spend enough time with them to have a real relationship, because they just cannot stand the pain of knowing the details of their life. It is easier to bury their heads and move on than to keep having their heart broken again and again. Better to let a scar form to protect themselves than to keep having the wound reopened. After all, what good does it do to know? It just hurts more, and doesn’t change anything.
If you’ve read any of my posts about my own parenting, you know that I am speaking from experience here. My wounds are fresh, and my heart longs to see my children enjoy that amazing life I’d hoped for. I’ve learned a few things though, and today I want to encourage you to think biblically about these two assumptions—it just hurts more and it doesn’t change anything. We’ll take them one at a time. Stay with me, and you may end up agreeing.
It just hurts more.
Each new revelation, each discovery of more wickedness or sin in your prodigal’s life really does seem to intensify the pain. But I think we need to ask ourselves, when we learn of new things they are doing, an important question: What has really changed? If we are thinking biblically, we need to reason from an eternal perspective. Has anything eternal changed? For example, was he unsaved before you learned that he was drinking too much? Now that you know, is he less saved? Is he less likely to be saved? Has he strayed too far this time for God to save him? Again, if you’re thinking biblically, you know that the answer is no. God can save him from the very lowest pit of this life. In fact, God may use that very development that has you so heartbroken to bring your adult child to new life!
Yes, our straying children’s sin is deeply painful. I am not saying here that we shouldn’t mourn and weep for the sinful choices our children make. We would not be human if we didn’t feel that deep, painful longing for our children to leave their life of sin, to know the Lord and to walk with Him. Neither am I saying that we should go down with them, enabling them to continue in a destructive lifestyle. At some point, when a loved one has descended into the idolatry of substance abuse or they have angrily rejected us, we may have no choice but to withdraw from their lives. Otherwise, we must remind ourselves that nothing has really changed. Though the circumstance or sin may seem more grievous or deeply rooted, the one and only thing that really matters is where they stand before God. This will rightly inform our prayers, and keep us from the pit of despair and fear because we know that our loving God is sovereign over this one and only thing that really matters.
Jesus Christ Himself modeled this for us. He saw the sin of his people. He wept over their unbelief, and he grieved over their rebellion. But one thing he did not do—He did not turn His back or distance himself from them because it was just too painful to know. He brought them before His Father, interceding for them, and this is what we must do. This brings me to my next point.
My knowing about his sin won’t change anything.
Many parents decide that, since God knows what their child is doing, that’s enough. He’ll keep working in their life. Why should we agonize when God is omniscient and sovereign? This seems like a prayer of faith, right? So they pray general prayers for repentance and safety, but stop there, because they don’t really know their child well enough to pray specifically. In my view, this just adds to the loss they already feel. A prayer informed by heartbreaking details and agonizing fear is a prayer that brings comfort as we pour out our tears and our hearts to the God who sees. There is something about tearful prayer that forms a bond of dependency on God that matter-of-fact, please-save-my-child prayers do not. We miss out on that sweet, deep fellowship that comes from having a broken heart and the knowledge that only Abba can mend it.
In my experience, reaching out to my prodigal and hearing about his life, even when it is painful to know, definitely changes things. I don’t mean that it changes him, and that is not my goal. I know I can’t change his life, because I can’t change his heart. Being willing to know the details of his life changes me, and it changes my relationship with the Lord. There have been times I buried my head; didn’t want to know. But I noticed that in those times, I developed a sense of self-sufficiency. I found that I could avoid worry, and feel pretty positive about how his life was going if I only knew the positive things. This is a life of faith, but not faith in God. This is a life of believing and trusting in myself to limit my knowledge to a level where I am comfortable.
The Lord continually convicted my conscience in this, showing me that this revealed a lack of trust in Him and a tendency to walk by sight. If I really trust the Lord, then there is no fear in knowing even the darkest truths about my prodigal’s life. If my Father truly is trustworthy and loving, then I can count on Him to comfort and keep me through even the most fearful times. I know this because I have seen it play out in my lifetime and again. I know this because God is God, and He is indeed who He says He is, no matter what my circumstances.
So, you have a choice in how you approach your prodigal. You can have the attitude that every awful, foolish choice is just another nail in the coffin of the life you hoped he’d have, and decide you can’t keep doing it. Bury your head in the sand and refuse to be involved in his life, for your own protection. Or, you can join me in using that sorrow, pain, and even grief to drive you to your knees. That stabbing pain that you think might be the end of you can be the beginning of a sweet and abiding relationship with your Savior and Friend, where you pour out your heart—the same heart you’ve poured into your child—with specific requests, appeals, and laments. He is near to the brokenhearted. He is near to you in your pain.
If your child desires a relationship with you; wants to share his struggles; wants you to be involved in his life, and you refuse because of your own fear and sadness, you are missing out on an opportunity to speak truth into his life. His sharing with you is an open door to share with him. Don’t miss out on a relationship of openness and honesty. It goes both ways. He may not like what you are saying as you speak truth to him, but that relationship you are nurturing may one day pave the narrow way for your prodigal. Don’t shy away from it.
Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Find your courage there. Keep speaking into your child’s life. Keep asking him questions. The arm of the Lord is not too short to save him, nor to catch you when you think you might crumble from sorrow and disappointment. Drench your pillow with your tears as you pray your own Psalm of lament. Pray specifically about everything you know. Then, stop being afraid of what your child is or isn’t doing.
Determine in your heart that you will trust God regardless of the circumstances, simply because of who He is. You can have a loving relationship with your child, even if he disappoints you. You wanted him to have an amazing life. God wants him to have an abundant life. The more you trust God and represent Him to your child, the more these two desires will look the same as you put off fear about his circumstances and put on hope in God’s love and grace. We serve a faithful Father who knows our prodigal better than we do. Let’s trust Him to complete His work in His timing.