Loving Your Prodigal
And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him...
Lorraine Hansberry's play "A Raisin in the Sun" has a moment where a mother defends her love for her prodigal son to his sister who hates him for his mistakes:
“Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most; when they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain’t through learning—because that ain’t the time at all. It’s when he’s at his lowest and can’t believe in hisself ’cause the world done whipped him so. When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right child, measure him right. Make sure you done take into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is.”
In the story of the prodigal son, we read that after the son had run away and blew through his inheritance, he decided to go back home. He was humbled and didn't think he deserved to be a son anymore. He planned to ask his father to make him a servant. And when the son was still a long way off, his father saw him, had compassion on him, and ran to him. His father didn't know why he was there. But he didn't care because his son was home after being gone for who knows how long. He was showing love for his son by watching for him presumably every day, all day. When he saw him, he ran to him. He didn't scold him or ask why he was there; he wasn't cautious with how to proceed. Instead, he hugged and kissed him. When his son tried to explain why he had returned, it's like the father wasn't listening. He was busy planning the party he was going to throw. He immediately commanded servants to get a robe, put a ring on his finger, and kill the fatted calf, for they were going to celebrate his son's return.
For many of us who have prodigals, our situations are different. Our loved one hasn't left with no contact, and we aren't physically watching for them to show up. Some may even live in our homes. We may have a decent relationship with them, or our connection may be strained. But since they have turned their back on Jesus, and chosen to follow the world, we call them a prodigal. Whether they are living a productive life with seemingly good values or they are rebelling against all authority, being a prodigal doesn't make them less in any way. Loving them is most likely natural, but how to love them might be a bit more complicated in our minds.
At the end of our prayer group today, we were talking about the importance of loving our prodigals and letting them know we are proud of them. Some of the things we discussed are about them, and some are about us. Here is a partial list of what we came up with:
Accept them and try to understand where they are coming from. Even if you don't agree with them, you can still value them as a person; you ca give them dignity and respect. 1 Peter 2:17 says, "Show proper respect to everyone."
Find things to be proud of and brag about. Especially children want their parents to be proud of them. They already know you don't agree with their decision to walk away from Jesus, but surely you can find things that make you want to say, "This one belongs to me. Have you noticed how kind they are to others? Or that good decision they made?" Psalm 127:3 says, "Behold, children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward."
Listen to them...they may be trying to tell you something. In your effort to help your prodigal, make sure they want it. Your intentions may be great, but if it causes them to withdraw or resent you, then it's time to pay attention to what they are saying. I have a child that wants us to let him make his own mistakes rather than always trying to give him advice or remind him or do things for him. I wasn't always a good listener, but I am learning. I am reminded of the Bible verse that says, "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry..." (Jms 1:19)
Never stop praying for them. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (Jms 5:16) You will never go wrong when you pray the Word of God. Isaiah 55:10-11 says, "For the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."
Look at what God may be reminding you of or teaching you. All of us have stories of what God has been teaching us through our own journeys of having a prodigal. But don't think that He isn't still teaching you something new or reminding you of something you may have forgotten. This is part of the Spirit's work: "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." (John 14:26)
Entrust their journey to Jesus. Know God is writing their story, and He can bring good out of anything. He is their Redeemer and Defender. He is fighting for them, protecting them, and drawing them. "A dimly burning wick He will not extinguish." (Is 42:3)
Remind yourself daily that God is in control. Read the Bible, for God's word is the encouragement you need. It is "God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." (2 Tim 3:16). You will find that God loves your prodigal more than you do, and He has not given up on them. He is a God with perfect timing...it may not be our timing, but His is better. Right now, as you are reading this, a verse may have come to your mind that has encouraged you while you wait. Let that verse sink in.
There are so many verses that I love, but one that has greatly encouraged me is: "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us," (Eph 3:20). God is able to do way more than what we can ask or imagine, not only in our lives but in the lives of all those we love. His power at work in us can enable us to love our prodigals well.