Parenting a Prodigal: When Everything Seems Hopeless

Parenting a Prodigal: When Everything Seems Hopeless

I have a moisturizing cream I use every day. It’s called “Renewed Hope in a Jar.” I love this cream. I love it because every time I pick up that jar and read the label, it reminds me that my hope is not in a jar of face cream. My hope is in the Lord.

If you have an adolescent or young adult in your life who has turned from home and family to a life of sin, recklessness, excess, or even outright crime, then you are the parent of a prodigal.

Today, I won’t be discussing the guilt, the anger, the regret, or even the financial damage of your situation. You probably don’t need to go over all that again in your mind, anyway.

Today, let’s re-discover hope.

I have been at the very bottom of the hope barrel more than once in my life, and I’m here to give you some Truth from Scripture, and from other believers, to help you keep your focus where it needs to be.

Hope is not dreams and aspirations.

My son, Ricky, was never an “easy” child. Handsome, lovable, charming, smart–all those things–but never, ever, “easy”. He had a talent for drawing and graphic art, and he was a natural athlete, but he was rarely recognized for those gifts. Every parent conference was 90% about behavior and 10% about academics.

All parents have dreams for their children. Ours was that he would eventually settle down, find his niche, and live up to his potential. After he was asked to leave every school he ever attended, however, those dreams began to fade.

I am a lifelong believer in Christ, and in God’s sacrifice of His only son to set us free from sin. As any Christian mom would, I prayed for my son. So did our family, our friends, and our small, closely-knit church. I had never dug too deeply into what hope really meant though, until one night in the woods of North Carolina.

We had, after prayerful consideration, placed Ricky in a boys’ wilderness camp operated by Baptist Children’s Homes. At fourteen years old and nearly six feet tall, he needed strong structure. Challenging physical activity and large doses of Scripture, we believed, could finally turn him around.

One night, the camp director called us. Ricky was in a behavioral crisis and they needed to have a group meeting with us and his counselors. The camp rarely called these meetings, so we drove an hour and a half in the middle of the night to get there, praying all the way.

We sat around the conference table in the camp office with Ricky, his social worker, two of his counselors, and the head of the camp (a man of great wisdom and patience). As we talked, it became clear to all of us that Ricky was trying every bad behavior he could think of to get himself thrown out of the camp.

“Why don’t you guys just give up on me?” He cried.

One of the counselors, Brian, turned to Ricky with an expression of surprise and compassion. “Don’t you know?” he said. “God doesn’t give up on people, and neither do we.”

Those words went through me like a lightning bolt. Why had I never looked at it this way? For me, it had always been about making everybody help Ricky “get better” so I could move ahead with my dreams for him. I had never even thought about the faithfulness of God in His plan for Ricky’s life.

Ricky wasn’t finished with his downward spiral, but I began to have a new understanding of what it meant to hope.

Hope is Tangible

Scripture tells us that our hope isn’t pie-in-the-sky, but a real gift that comes to us when we commit to following Jesus Christ.

In Hebrews 10:23, Paul writes: Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. [Emphasis added]

We have a sure hope to which we can cling because God does not change. He will not turn away from His people. He will not give up on them because He promised not to, over and over again. We may not keep our promises, but God keeps His. If you don’t believe me, read any book in the Old Testament.

Hope does not mean that you should keep chasing after your child, trying to plead with them to come to their senses. Consider the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32): When the prodigal son demanded his portion of his inheritance, his father gave it to him.

When the prodigal left home to embark on his reckless journey, his father did not run after him. He let his prodigal son go, placing the consequences where they belonged. As painful as it must have been, he saw that his son was hell-bent to do what he would do, and we later read that the father had even considered his son dead.

One of the many lessons we can take from this passage is that God does the same with us, and with our prodigal children. A pastor friend of mine puts it this way, “Sometimes God has to let them get a bellyful [of their sin].” God in his infinite wisdom knows just how far this will go. God is not helpless or frustrated by your child’s situation.

‘Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.
–Jeremiah 32:17

Remember, Christians, we worship the God who is sovereign over all things. God is the only One who has seen everything in your child’s heart. He is not shocked. He is not intimidated. He is in charge of every circumstance. Remember that God walks beside you, too, and He hears your prayers for your prodigal child.

Your child may seem trapped by the consequences of their choices. Remember Joseph? He was dumped in a well, sold into slavery, wrongly accused and imprisoned. And yet he was able to say–to the brothers who started it all–that what they had intended for evil, God used for good. (Genesis 50:20) Never doubt that your child’s current circumstances could be the refining fire that God intends to use to burn away the evil from their heart.

God has his own purposes for you and for your prodigal, so be patient. After all, Joshua waited 40 years to lead God’s people to the Promised Land. Waiting on God is hard, I know. Here are some ways to be proactive.

What to Do While You’re Waiting on God

  • Feed yourself on Scripture. Search for all the evidence of God’s faithfulness. Comfort yourself with the Psalms. Just read the Bible. Every day.
  • There are beautiful devotionals written for families who have prodigal children. Add one to your prayer time. It could be a great source of encouragement.
  • My Pastor, Gabe, is fond of saying that not everyone in your church family is going crazy at the same time. That means that there are people in your church who can be sources of wisdom, strength, and support to you. Please ask for help.
  • Get on with your life. Don’t allow yourself to be paralyzed with fear, or to run around in circles looking for the solution to this. Live your life, enjoy your family. Keep taking one day at a time, allowing God to do His work.
  • Last, but most important, Pray. Be in regular prayer for your prodigal child and for your own endurance. It’s okay to pray that your child gets caught and sent to jail. It’s okay to pray that your child would hit rock bottom. Pray for God’s will to be done, without being fearful for what that might mean.

Final Instructions from God

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Joshua 1:9 | ESV |

Grace is real–