What should Christian parents do if they have a prodigal son (or daughter)?

Question: "What should Christian parents do if they have a prodigal son (or daughter)?"

There is inherent in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) several principles that believing parents can use to react to and deal with children who walk contrary to the way the parents have raised them. We need to remember that once a son or daughter has reached their "adulthood" they are no longer under the authority of the parents.

In the story of the prodigal, the son takes his inheritance and goes into a far country and wastes it. In the case of a child that is not a born again believer, this is just doing what comes naturally. In the case of a child who at one time made a clear decision for Christ, we call this child a "prodigal." The word "prodigal" is not found in this story. The meaning of this word is, "wastefully or recklessly extravagant or a person who has spent their resources wastefully." Therefore, this word describes the son of Luke 15. It also describes a child who leaves home and takes the inheritance that his parents have invested in them and all of the years of nurture, teaching, love, and care are forgotten as this child rebels against God. For all rebellion is against God first and is manifested in the rebellion against parents and their long time authority. This child then heads out in to the world and wastes their heritage and repudiates their parent's values.

Notice that the parent of the parable does not stop this child from leaving. Nor does the parent follow after this child to try to protect them from themselves. The parent does not interfere with the choices or decisions that this child makes. Rather, this parent faithfully stays at home and prays and when that child "comes to" and turns around and heads back the parent is waiting and watching and sees that child even when they are a "great way" off and moves to meet them.

The principles then are these; when our sons and daughters go off on their own and make choices that we know will bring hard consequences, parents must let go and allow them to leave. The parent does not follow after and the parent does not interfere with the consequences that will come. Rather, the parent stays at home, keeps faithfully praying and watching for the signs of repentance and a change of direction. Until and unless that comes, the parent keeps their own counsel, does not underwrite the rebellion and does not become a busybody (1 Peter 4:15).

Once children are of an age of legal "adulthood." they are subject only to the authority of God and the delegated authority of government (Romans 13:1-7). As parents we can come alongside once our sons or daughters have made their move toward God. God uses self-inflicted misery and "child training" to bring every one to wisdom, and it is up to each individual to respond correctly. As parents we cannot save our children, only God can do that. In obedience we must give them nurture in the LORD when we are given that opportunity (Ephesians 6:4) and then allow them to make their own choices. Until then, we watch and pray and leave the matter in the hands of the LORD. This may be a painful process but one when done according to divine viewpoint will bring the reward of peace of heart. We cannot judge our children, only God can. In this there is a great comfort, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25b).

Recommended Resource: Praying Prodigals Home: Taking Back What the Enemy has Stolen by Quin Sherrer & Ruthanne Garlock.

Related Topics:

How do I survive trying to raise a teenager?

What does the Bible say to do with a rebellious child?

What does the Bible say about being a good parent?

How should Christians discipline their children?

Are children always a blessing from God?

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What should Christian parents do if they have a prodigal son (or daughter)?