The heartbreaking topic of parenting a prodigal child must be addressed in this context. As so often happens, a child can be raised in a strong Christian environment by loving parents who actively serve the Lord, only to rebel and make deliberately bad choices that end in serious trouble or a rejection of the Christian faith. The irony of this situation is that frequently there is a sibling who was raised in exactly the same way, but enthusiastically embraces everything the parent has taught! Since parents tend to see adult children as their “report card” on their parenting skills, this can be very difficult. If the child “fails” by making choices the parent would never endorse, they believe they failed in parenting, even though another child may wildly succeed. Parents need to remember our “report card” from the Lord is in the next life, not this one. Human nature is a mysterious thing, and difficult to understand at times. Why one child obediently follows Christ, and their sibling deliberately chooses a rebellious path, has perplexed parents of every generation. It is interesting to note that even the very first married couple on the face of the earth had two children that chose drastically different paths. Parents of prodigals, you are not alone.
While a parent should not “preach” to their wayward child (it rarely accomplishes the desired result), it is always appropriate to pray. “Prayer-enting” is a term coined by the mom of a young man who had “de-converted” from Christ. Knowing that there was little she could say or do to convince him of his dreadful mistake, she committed herself to intense prayer for this child. This is the experience of most parents of prodigals – striving to show unconditional love while not continually rescuing the child or excuse the behavior. One mother put it this way,
“My husband and I continue to use the same vocabulary we've always used, not avoiding spiritual words. We tell our son how we are praying for him, about answered prayer in our own lives, about people we know and have been praying for or working with and who have recently received Christ or have followed the Lord in believer's baptism. The natural thing to do when one's child indicates they doubt everything they once professed to believe and hold dear is to avoid sharing spiritual things. Maybe it is to avoid conflict or out of fear that they will cease to communicate, but we feel strongly that we must continue to be true to what we know to be true and value. So far, it has not been a point of conflict, and we trust the Lord to use it in His plan. We also forward words of encouragement to our children from others, and we tell them when someone asks about them and indicates they are praying for them. We don’t insist that they believe as we do, or condemn or whine about their spiritual condition. We leave that to God and work hard to keep the communication moving.”
Her key sentence is that she and her husband do not complain to their child about his lack of commitment to Christ, or preach to him. By not doing so, they show they still love and respect their adult child, although heartbroken over his rejection of Christ. These wise parents have refused to burn the bridge of their relationship with their son, choosing to do everything they can to model the unconditional love of God to him.
Parents of prodigals desperately need emotional and spiritual support from friends and family. Unfortunately, because of the perceived shame associated with prodigal children, many of their parents live with enormous pain. As the family of God, it is our responsibility to encourage and pray for them.