Parenting is one of the best and hardest experiences in life. Our powerful love for our children can feel scary at times. Scary because it means were vulnerable. It doesnt take long to discover that we have little control over these precious ones who hold our hearts.
For the Christian parent, theres the added passion to bring them to faith in Christ. To see them share our beliefs. We want them to follow in our path and love God, love His truth recorded in the Bible, and to seek to live by its principles. We want them to have the best God has to offer.
When our children begin to make choices that dont line up with our beliefs, thats painful and sometimes devastating. For some, those choices may just be a difference of opinions about non-essential issues. But many parents have a child who takes a path opposite to their family values, and in some cases, they become what we call a prodigal.
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The Story of the Prodigal Son
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Though prodigal isnt found in the Bible, this term comes from a parable told by Jesus about a man who had two sons. The younger son asked for his inheritance early. The father gave it to him, and the son left home and went to a far country where he lived an extravagant, wild life wasting all his money. He found himself feeding pigs for a living and longing for their food. One day he realized that his fathers hired hands were better off than him, and he returned home to ask his father to give him a job as a servant. His father, whod been watching for him, saw him coming and ran to him, hugged him, and forgave him instantly. He was thrilled to have him back and celebrated his return (Luke 15:11-24).
Because of this passage, we use this word prodigal to refer to a child who is estranged from the family and who may not have been heard from for years. The word actually means one who spends money or resources freely and recklessly and is wastefully extravagant.
Jesus told the parable to illustrate how God loves us and is always ready to forgive us when we come to Him. The story has come to be a message of hope for parents who have a child who in some way is estranged or has rejected family values.
For those parents who grieve over a child who is either alienated or is making painful choices, here are 10 hopeful affirmations:
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1. My childs story isnt over yet.
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We see today, this moment. But all of us are on a journey. Its like picking up a book and only reading the middle and thinking thats ithow sad. Thats not the end of the story! When our son was younger, I tended to want him to have my current values, which took me years to learn and develop. It often helped me to remember what I was like at his age. Sometimes young people do quickly adopt our values but each has to be allowed to grow at their own pace. I had to give him the same grace God gave me.
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2. God is working in my childs heart even when I cant see any evidence.
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Scripture tells us, …The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7b).
A person can appear to have no interest in God or even act hostile to God when all the while, inside theyre struggling with Him. We cant know whats truly in another persons heart and mind. Only God knows that, and God is always working.
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3. God promises to finish what He started in my childs life.
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Paul wrote in Philippians 1:1-3, I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joybeing confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Ive often thought of this verse when praying for our son. It reminds me that what God begins, He finishes. When He puts a child into a Christian home, He has begun a work that He will continue. That doesnt mean the child is guaranteed to follow Christ, but it does mean God will continually draw them to Himself.
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4. My prayers for my child are powerful and effective.
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The greatest work we can do for our children is pray for them.
As James 5:16 states, The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Dont be thrown by the word righteous; this refers to anyone who trusts in Jesus Christ, is covered by His sacrifice, and has His Spirit living in them. When a believer prays, God hears our cries and He answers. Plus, we trust that He loves our children more than we do. He wants to work His will out in their lives.
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5. Its the Holy Spirits job to change my child. Not mine.
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As a parent, its hard not to try to fix our children. We tend to think we know whats best. But changing them is Gods job. Our part is to love them unconditionally. Knowing theyre loved unconditionally has more power in a childs life than a thousand sermons we might preach.
This doesnt mean we condone everything they do or approve every decision. It means they know that whatever they do, wherever they go, and no matter what mistakes they make, we will still love them and they will always be welcome in our arms. A parent can speak the truth about what they believe as long as its spoken in love. And in my opinion, with as few words as possible.
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6. I can trust in Gods timing.
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Gods not on the same time table as I am.
We often want our prayers answered right now. We pray for God to work in our childs life and hope to see the results tomorrow. But Gods not in a hurry. Hes outside of time. Like 2 Peter 3:8 states, With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. He sees everything from beginning to end and He knows what needs to happen to bring each of us to the place where we need to be.
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7. I will walk by faith, not by sight.
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Walking in faith means we trust God to do what Hes promised even when we cant see it. Hebrews 11:1 defines it this way: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Actually, if we can see something, it doesnt take faith to trust its real. By faith we believe God exists and that He created the universe. We trust that He is good and He loves us. We have never seen heaven but we know thats where followers of Christ will spend eternity. We believe that Jesus is the Son of God and He came to earth to live and die for us and that He rose from the dead. After His resurrection, Jesus said, …Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29b). When we pray for our children, we believe God will answer and that He desires what is best for them.
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8. God promises to work all things together for good.
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When our son was in the first semester of his sophomore year of college, I woke up in the middle of the night to see him standing by our bed. He had come home depressed and in an alarming state of mind. After some discussion and evaluating, we allowed him to drop out of school and move back home.
This was more difficult for me than for my husband. I had to let go of my picture of what his journey would be. God helped me see that our son meant so much more to me than my plan for his career path. I had to release my ideas of his future and fully embrace him and his heart. That was some years ago and God has used all of that to work good in his life.
The gospel writer Paul revealed some of what that good is in Romans 8:28-29b. He wrote, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son… God uses all that happens in our lives to make us more like Jesus.
We may see our children go through some hard things. It may be devastating. But God promises that He works in all things to accomplish what is best.
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9. Anywhere my child goes, God is there.
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Psalm 139:7-10 reveals a beautiful truth when it says, Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. In other words, God is everywhere, always.
A few years ago, one of my dear friends had a son who was stationed in Afghanistan. I thought of this verse and reminded her that God was right there with him. The original word translated as the depths in the verse above actually means hell. Even if your child is in a place that seems to you like the pit of hell, God is still with them. He will see them through. Theyre not alone.
Remember, no one is beyond Gods reach.
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10. Nothing is impossible for God.
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Your child may be in such a low state that change seems humanly impossible. You cant see any way for things to improve. Remember, nothing is hopeless with God. As Jesus taught His disciples, What is impossible with man is possible with God (Luke 18:27).
As long as a person is still breathing, theres hope on earth. If our loved one has left this earth, we still have to trust them to God. We dont know what happened in their heart during their last hours or minutes on earth.
As much as we love our children, and parents often feel no one could love their children more, we need to remember that God loves them more than we do. He loves them with a perfect love. He created them. He knit them together in the womb (Psalm 139:15). He loved them enough to send His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for them and offer His righteousness in place of their sins.
We dont have to doubt that God wants what is best for them. Its also important to remember that what happens with our children is not because we failed to say the right words or be a perfect example. Each person answers to God for themselves. God takes everything in our lives, including whatever mistakes our parents might make, and uses it all for good to bring about His purposes. In His time, in His way, and at just the right moment. We can trust the promise given in Ephesians 1:11, In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.
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Susan Aken writes devotions and articles for Wholly Loved Ministries, is an Oklahoma native whos lived in Nebraska since 1987 and has been in public education for over thirty years. She and her husband have one son and a wonderful daughter-in-law. Besides writing she has a passion for special needs and prayer ministries. She enjoys time with family, reading, photography, movies, walking in nature, and a nice cup of tea. She believes life is a journey and were all in different places. Jesus is everything to her and its all about grace. Visit her at susanaken53.wordpress.com or on Facebook.