Six Ways to Love a Wayward Child

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Daily he stood outside his door, searching the horizon for the lone figure of his son. Only to be disappointed. Heartbroken. Not today, it seemed. Not today. But someday, he might return.

Until then, this forlorn father would wait. And watch. And pray. And hope.

The parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11–32 now has new meaning for me. I don’t focus so much on the son, as I have in past readings. I focus now on the father. Watching him. Studying him. Learning from him.

Why? Because now I am standing in his shoes — worn-through with worry, wondering, and weariness. Worry for my own child’s spiritual lostness. Wondering when she will return. Weary about what it will take to bring her home.

Reading this story from this new — although unwanted — perspective has helped me to discover six principles that were previously lost on me. Principles which I am daily trying to put into practice now. Principles that I hope will help other parents of prodigals, too.

Release Them (Luke 15:11–13)

When confronted by the son’s demand for his inheritance, I am struck by the fact that the father did not refuse him. He did not put up a fight or speak a word of warning, even though he certainly could have done so. He simply complied.

And in complying, I realized, he was really releasing this son. Releasing him to step into his own journey. Releasing him to face the uncertainty of his own future and the consequences of his choices and actions — good and bad. At some point, every parent faces this release.

From this father’s example, I have accepted that I too must let my daughter step into her own journey (while using wisdom and discernment within certain boundaries). I have had to release her, to allow her to make her own choices — good and bad — and to experience the highs and the lows, the sins and the joys. To explore and embrace the beauty and ugliness of it all for herself.

Accept Them (Luke 15:13–14)

This son made poor choices — very poor choices. In all the wrong ways, he “lived it up,” to put it into our vernacular. His father had given him his lead, and now, without any parental restraint, this young man gave in to the appetites of the world, to his selfish desires, and to sin. Debauchery. Prostitutes. All manner of reckless living.

In the end, he was left destitute and desperate.

Like this wayward son, all of our children have been wonderfully created with a will of their own. They have real choices to make. Between godliness and evil. Between God and Satan. Between righteousness and sin. God is sovereign over their will, but their parents are not.

While it is hard, I accept this. I accept that she has a will to choose. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because I know that she can, and hopefully, by God’s grace, will one day choose Jesus.

Uphold Them (Luke 15:17–18)

The son had reached the end of himself. How long it took is uncertain. But his sin had left him senseless and sore. It was only then that he “came to himself.” Other translations say, “came to his senses.” Either way, his soul was finally awakened to its sickness, and he began to stumble homeward.

While this son was living it up, wasting his life and his inheritance, the father, I imagine, was on his knees in prolonged prayer, upholding his son before his God.

I too am upholding my daughter. And I pray specifically. I pray that, like the son, she too will come to her senses. I pray that the Holy Spirit will stir her heart and awaken in her an unbearable desire to “go to her Father,” repent, and be wonderfully restored.

Wait for Them

For how long this father waited is uncertain. Scripture doesn’t say. But he waited. Every day. Expectantly. Prayerfully. Hopefully.

May God grant parents of prodigals that kind of Spirit-filled patience.

Receive Them (Luke 15:20)

Again, I am awestruck by the father’s response. The day had finally come, at long last, when the son came home. And compassion propelled this father forward. Toward his son — at a dead run, no less. Arms open wide. Love pouring forth. His heart overwhelmed.

There was no reprimand. No finger-wagging. No “I told you so!” No “How could you!”

I pray that my response will be as compassionate, loving, gracious, and welcoming. I must put the pain aside in that moment. With God’s help, I will enfold her in an embrace that announces forgiveness, restoration, and unconditional love.

Celebrate Them (Luke 15:22–23, 32)

The rebellious one had come home. Repentant of his sins. Restored in his salvation. He was lost. But now is found. Home. For good.

It was indeed cause for celebration. What other response could there possibly be?

And that, I believe, is one overarching message of this powerful story: There is celebration, not condemnation, when a lost soul has come to its senses through repentance — has appropriated the free gift of grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8–9) and thus has found its way Home into the open arms of a loving and forgiving Father.

How could I do anything less if and when my own prodigal returns? I too will celebrate her return with an abandon and an abundance that only God and his angels can rival.