On Parenting Prodigals

I was feeling led to write about saying good-byes, thinking I would share about the times my daughter has left for the mission field. But looking at our Facebook page and the discussions and prayer requests, I think that the good-bye I need to write about is releasing a prodigal child to God.
In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus shares the Parable of the Lost Son, or Prodigal Son. It is a wonderful story that shares how our God, as the Father, is always ready to celebrate and welcome us in, or back in, to His presence. I think too, it’s a beautiful example to prepare us that sometimes our kids make bad decisions, and we too, need to welcome them back into our home, or our life.
Our son, Jason (he gave me permission to use his name) was the “best” kid in high school. Not only was he a top academic student, he was also a top athlete….and in a small town, THAT carries a LOT of weight. He was a VERY LARGE fish in a VERY SMALL pond. The kind of person, who at the end of the day would drive through a fast food place and the manager would comp his meal. That as a college student, the policeman that pulled him over for speeding would issue his warning asking if he was going to get to hear his name on the radio next year during football season. He played soccer in the fall, kicked for football his Jr and Sr years, and was the catcher for baseball in the spring. He was a student leader in his church, on campus, and in the community. He was the kid that everyone loved. EVERYONE.
He was renown for his abilities, but mostly for his walk with God. He testified with his life, of all God’s goodness. His faith was solid.
I was proud of Jason’s decisions as he had transitioned from a homeschooled kid (grades 1-8), into a public high school student, and then a college student. He alone chose his college, his field of study, his sport. We prayed hard – SO hard – for these decisions to be the best ones for his walk with God too. He chose to go to a fairly local, secular, state college, but he got involved with Christian Campus House (CCH) right away, and pulled a high GPA his freshman year to sustain his Academic and Leadership scholarships. He had redshirted his first year in football (Kicker), and although he was not on a sports scholarship, he fully invested himself in the program, despite the new coach not appreciating him being there. He took his first big mission trip to Kenya over the summer, and was more passionate than ever to pursue missions after college was over.
Then something happened his sophomore year, and he…changed…
I don’t know if it was pressure from the football program, from his classes, from seeing kids on scholarship that skated through class without studying; or if it was just the sense of freedom that took off, or pride, or peer pressure….I honestly don’t know what it was. But he really changed in so many ways.
Ultimately, he made decisions that affected the rest of his college career. He made choices that could have hurt him for the rest of his life, and have changed him for the rest of his life. And there was nothing we could do about it. We tried to talk with him about his choices. About his grades. About changing schools, majors, schedules, dropping sports altogether, changing a circle of friends. It all fell on deaf ears.
When he started sharing more about a certain girl, an international student he had befriended, red flags popped up all over. It was not just the over-protective mom concerned that there was a girl in his life; this was a non-believer, with a group of non-believing friends, influencing him – instead of him influencing her/them. For the first time in our life, we had to go over the house rules when he brought a group over for the holidays. No laying down on the couch together was the hardest one for me to keep insisting on. It was evident that their relationship had crossed over into areas that were completely inappropriate, but we insisted that while they were in our home, that they abide by house rules. The same rules we had with our daughters, but never once had to remind them of. This was SO different, and we were in completely unchartered territory.
That’s how some of the worst 3 years in my life started. Now I realize that we are all in different places in our faith walk, and in our convictions as to what that walk means, but me – who was not raised Christian, who was raised in a non-Christian home, had been sexually abused as a child and pre-teen, and became a very promiscuous teen ager who dabbled in any religion (outside of Christianity) and just about every drug; I had a solid sense of boundaries for my kids while raising them. They always had good mentors in place, college students from a local Christian college who would feed into their faith, and show that it’s cool to be in your 20’s and be a Christian with a strong relationship with God. But this season of life with Jason – where he was still DOING Christian things, like playing drums in the worship team, going to CCH, was involved in other Christian groups, and played the part of the Christian back in his hometown – was making choices completely contrary to what God’s Word said to do, how to behave, how to live.
For Mark and I, we had to enter a season of “tough-love” for him. We knew that he was drinking (I believe he waited till he was 21, but he was still being irresponsible with his actions then), and that he had lost all his scholarships for school. He chose to take light schedules in his class schedule, making time for drinking and dancing at clubs (To clarify, I’m not against going out and having a good time, dancing, or even an occasional drink – but his balance was way out of line, to the point that that and computer games became more important than his coursework.). As his habits became worse, we reminded him that if he lost his scholarships, he would have to take on that financial responsibility (we had a 50/50 arrangement for college with each of our kids, as long as they were trying their hardest to pass classes and proceed to the next level; but Jason’s actions forced us to withdraw financial support for his schooling all together). We entered into a season of tough love; knowing that we didn’t trust him with any financial contributions we made for him. We would take him grocery shopping, or drop off groceries. We tried to meet with him occasionally, usually on Sunday’s after we went to church (without him). It was hard to see him change physically, and spiritually. The light left his eyes, even though he never denied Christ. He was backsliding.
I asked Jason today – who is a few years older, wiser, walking stronger with God and recently engaged to a wonderful Christian woman – what made a difference, and what could we have done better. I realize that each of us is different, and each of our kids is different too!! But here are a few things that we discussed:
1. Prayer is always good. Even the tough prayer – “Lord, do WHATEVER You need to do to restore this child’s walk with You” is good. Offer to pray WITH them (not the hard prayer) and not just say we are praying for them.
2. Remind them of the house rules. Don’t be afraid to say “I recognize you are an adult…but in our house, these are the rules…”. Make it hard for sin to take place in your home. (When Jason was with us after he graduated, living for a short season, we didn’t allow him to be in our house with a girl alone. Period. We provided a bench on the front porch that they could sit on instead.)
3. Love them, but don’t be afraid to “tough love” them. He always knew we were there for him, but it was going to be on our conditions, based on Biblical principles. If he needed gas money to get to work, we put it in his tank – so we were sure that it didn’t go for going out. For a season he lived alone in a green house (really), and we sent him Subway gift cards. You might have to be creative, and it hurts to see our kids flounder, but it gives them the courage to stand up on their own, when God moves them to.
4. Don’t rescue them. If they make a mistake that impacts their future, they need to choose what to do about it, and “suffer” the consequences of their sin. We had a pack that we’d never bail him out of jail….thankfully, we didn’t ever get that call…but we made a plan, and he was aware of it.
5. Make sure that you and your spouse are on the same page, with whatever you decide. Even if you play “good parent/bad parent” – be aware of what it is that the other is doing, and work together on it.
6. Speak the name of Jesus over that child, or into that situation. There were a few days that it was all I could do. Like the song “You’re Great Name” by Natalie Grant, “the enemy, he has to leave, at the sound of Your Great Name”. Satan can not be where Jesus is given control. It brought peace to my broken heart feeling the burden of guilt, the sin of worry, and to RELEASE CONTROL of that moment to God, who loves Jason even more than I. 
7. Be real. Be honest. Don’t be sneaky. There were a few times that God would give me a scripture that spoke to my heart and I would post it on Facebook in my status, and Jason took it that I was posting it for him to read. He even unfriended me for a season (it was heartbreaking!!). It was coincidence in that case, but be sensitive as to what you are putting out there, it may do more harm than good.
8. Keep talking truth, light, and life into their lives. Don’t brush over with friends and say that “oh, they’re just doing fine” – be honest and say something along the lines of “he’s in a difficult season right now, and could really use your prayers” and maybe even ask if you can pray THAT MOMENT with a friend for your child/children. God uses our trials to build up our community, the body of Christ!!
I’m sorry to say that there is not any way to keep this from happening, no magic inoculation, no wall tall enough to keep them from trying what the world has to offer. I’m forever grateful that God brought Jason back into the fold, that His mercies are new every morning – even in my own life. I know that He was walking alongside me that whole time, and that He had a hand of protection on Jason’s life too. He also protected our marriage, by allowing good communication and prayer to take place in our home.
How have YOU handled the situation with your “prodigal child”, and would you do anything differently? How can we pray for each other today?? (Pray for the person above you in the comments area please, and however else God leads you to pray!)
(NOTE: for another view on the Parable of the Prodigal, please see a post I wrote a while back over at Auntie Em Writes at :  http://auntieemwritesat.blogspot.com/search/label/prodigal%20son  )

5 thoughts on “On Parenting Prodigals

  1. This has been such an issue for us. We are a blended family and many of the children’s growing up years were spent with my husband and I out of church ourselves. We finally got our lives straightened out as the two oldest were going through high school years. I say all this to admit that our children did not always see us as good role models. After our last child went off to college and we were anticipating the empty nest, my step-son (our middle child) moved home with his son. He had custody of his child (he and the mama never married). They lived with us for just over 2 years during which we had them in church as much as possible. Admittedly he wasn’t always happy but his son saw a completely different world and I am praying it makes an impact. They now live less than a mile away and I am fortunate to get to spend time with my grandson depending on work schedules. I continue to pray for his salvation and for a positive influence on our grandson. And had to really hold back to not rescue him because of the child. Wow…I have completely spilled my guts!!!

  2. Thank you for your encouraging about your prodigal “child.” Facebook is not an option for me and although I just went Google +, I’m not sure how to add this group to my circle or whatever the correct term would be. Can someone give me some insight if Google + is a place where only the group would be able to communicate and see the discussion? Thank you in advance!

  3. Cindy,
    YES, we’ll set up circles there. I was waiting to see what kind of response we got from each venue, but LOVE how we can group webcam chat on Google + – so we’re wanting to develop that group too. Most of our participation is on FB, so I’m sorry you’ll miss that – but we’ll be sure to send stuff out to keep you informed!! You can also email us at relativelyemptynesting@gmail.com and we’ll reply privately…that’s our same Google + group, if you add us, or email the gmail address and I can put you into our circle!!
    Thanks for participating!! 🙂 ~marina

  4. Luke 6:26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

    1 Corinthians 15:33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” When we home schooled our children, I had a lot to learn about even “good” company and not righteous, holy company. We bought a lot of rhetoric about home school and socialization and I am sorry for it because we too had to go through some very rough times with our son.

    I learned with our daughter to do better, even “good” socialization could have subtle ways to pull children away from the Lord.

    Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child. The Lord showed me that we could not be too careful about the kind of associations we had even with home schooling. I was not spoken well of by people because I was too strict, too over protective and too whatever, but I learn the boundaries are important for a reason.

    Our son lost his scholarship and his girl friend at the time stole all his college funds. My daughter is now 24 years old and said she is so grateful for the sanctuary she had away from the world and worldly influences even within the church. Her testimony is one of God’s staying power.

    College is no longer a place where Christian youth can learn but are indoctrinated towards the world, so many home school family are choosing to have their young people take college online. The Bible tells us that the world would grow worse as the coming of our Lord draws nearer, so it requires diligence and watching for the little foxes that destroy the vineyard.

    • Mrs. J. – Thanks so much for your reply. Yes, we too took a lot of flack for choosing to remove our kids from public school and homeschool for the 8 years we did – our daughters each went on to Ozark Christian College, in Joplin – (our oldest took her GED at 16 and started OCC at 16 1/2, and our younger “accelerated” her high school, homeschool studies, and started at OCC on her 16th birthday!). If I had it to do over again, I’d insist that our son do a year at a Christian college (Ozark) before going to a state college. As it was, he tried to go after he graduated from the state u., but the doors didn’t open at the right time. Still, he made some great friendships, found accountability and mentoring that has transitioned him into this season he is in now.
      (and both of our daughters met their husbands at Ozark too…they are also both graduates from there!!)
      I hope we get to know more about you, and the wonderful things God has done through your family. Our circumstances may all be different – but our God is SO FAITHFUL to walk these roads with us!
      All grace and peace to you!!

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