As mentioned in part 1 of this two-fold blog, I would like to preface by saying, there are some truly prodigal stories out there that are a replica of the original prodigal story in the Bible (See Luke 15 starting in verse 11). In verse 13 of the story, it clearly conveys the prodigal’s desire for immorality, and in verse 17 we see the character of the Father as someone loving and kind. For all the broken parents experiencing this right now, my heartfelt sympathies extend to you. My prayers for you are that you are blessed with a return, much like the father of the prodigal received and for your child to have a true encounter with Jesus Christ, much like the Prodigal had with his face in a trough of hard living.
Aside from the percentages of such tragedies that occur, my focus with Part 2 of this blog: The Prodigal Child or the Prodigal Parent, is to help people to understand the difference between the two. This is because I have found there to be a sudden influx of parents with strained relationships with their children in the world we live in today. While I always find this deeply sorrowful, what I find to be the deeper bereavement is the number of parents that have labeled their children prodigals when in fact they are not.
As mentioned in part 1 of this blog, the three things that make a child a prodigal are selfishness, wastefulness, and disharmony. While there are many legitimate cases of this within families, I find more and more that the disconnect is due to prodigal parents more than prodigal children. So, let’s take a deeper look into what makes a parent prodigal.
As again, previously mentioned, the Greek word for prodigal is Asotos which means WASTEFUL. Another Greek word prodigal is Asotia which means wasteful materialistically, as well as SPIRITUALLY. Spatalao is another Greek term for prodigal that means living extravagantly and RIOTOUSLY (causing an unsettlement of peace). When a child disconnects from their home and family, it’s so much easier to hurl verses at them to spiritually abuse them into honoring their parents and staying connected to their family. The harsh reality many are blind to, however, is the biblical application of the following verses as well:
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger [do not exasperate them to the point of resentment with demands that are trivial or unreasonable or humiliating or abusive; nor by showing favoritism or indifference to any of them], but bring them up [tenderly, with loving-kindness] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Fathers, do not provoke or irritate or exasperate your children [with demands that are trivial or unreasonable or humiliating or abusive; not by favoritism or indifference; treat them tenderly with loving-kindness], so they will not lose heart and become discouraged or unmotivated [with their spirits broken].
And in all things show yourself to be an example of good works, with purity in doctrine [having the strictest regard for integrity and truth], dignified,
2 Corinthians 12:14
Now for the third time I am ready to visit you. I will not burden you [financially], because I do not want what is yours [not your money or your possessions], but you. For children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.
There are many more examples like this all throughout the Bible, as well as stories of family cycles of abuse, parental abandonment, family addictions, mothers, and fathers who parent with anger, mothers who are sewers of discord in their homes, fathers that fail to lead their homes and families, and mostly pride and entitlement among leadership. All these things carry with them the exact same three behaviors that make up a prodigal child, only this time it’s the parent. In these such cases, the parents are acting out with selfishness, wasting opportunities to parent in a godly way and sewing disharmony in the family by means of heavy hands and hearts.
I think to understand a little deeper we must observe the Prodigal’s father in Luke chapter 15. Do you notice that the Prodigal’s father did not fuss or argue with his son and demand he stay home, when he came to leave? He didn’t even deny him his inheritance. He could have, but he chose not to.
The Prodigal’s father didn’t try to manipulate his son into doing what he wanted him to do. He didn’t worry about his reputation and what others would think of him, as a father, if his son left and lived a life of sin. He simply loved his son, gave to him freely, released him to be free to choose and all WITH his blessings he asked for.
After the Prodigal left the father then tended to his work. He didn’t play the victim of his son’s absence. He didn’t make sure everyone knew how wrong his son was for leaving. By the time his rebellious son came home, he was there working when he saw him from afar off and ran to him. He didn’t stand there and wait for him to come the whole way home while telling him "I told you so." He didn’t make sure he was guilted and shamed for all he endured while his son was away. He simply ran to him. He celebrated with him. He showered him with love and acceptance and made no demands except to his servants to start the celebration.
In Chapter 15 we even see where the prodigal, while at his lowest moment, thought of how good his father was to his servants under him. It made me think, how many parents can honestly say:
My character as a parent has always been godly and I have always sought to handle every matter biblically.
My home was always filled with so much love and acceptance.
My home was never cynical or demanding to the point my kids felt oppressed, stressed, or discouraged.
My home wasn’t abusive, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or verbally.
My home was not a place of discord and arguing and we all had a voice and I listened to my children and what they had to say instead of demanding they listen to me all the time.
My means of correcting my child were not harsh and shameful, but merciful and tender.
My mouth has never run my child’s character or name into the dirt to others to protect my own testimony as a parent.
I was never concerned about what others thought of me more than what my child thought of me.
I never broke my child’s boundaries and tried to respect their wishes and desires for their own life when they came of age.
I never abandoned my child when they needed me most, then demanded they be there for me when I needed them the most.
The questions could be endless, but the point being, can you say with all sincerity, that your home was one of blessings, love, and peace like the home of the prodigal? Our first nature is to direct our attention to the prodigal and all he did wrong, yet in doing this we somehow miss observing the father and all he did that was right. This is where the deeper lesson resides. Sometimes, we the parents, can be the prodigal, but instead of losing a son or daughter, we push them away by the life we lived as their parents. A lifestyle we often don’t want to reflect on or regard the consequences of.
We should always pray for our prodigal children, but we should also investigate our own lives and ensure we aren’t the prodigal parent before we label our kids with such a title. When a home isn’t peaceful, sometimes a child must depart from it to find his/her peace elsewhere. Our kids may very well be lost or misguided at times, but is this because they are truly prodigals, or because they are hurting and searching for truth from the wreckage of life and a home, we provided them?
If you find yourself being convicted over possibly being the prodigal parent, here are five steps you need to take to repair your pathway to home:
Repent to God for all your wrongdoings, but also call, text, or send a letter to your child apologizing for the areas you went wrong in parenting them. “I’m sorry I did/said…” can go a long way to a child who desperately wanted a parent who acknowledged their truth that life wasn’t easy in that home and sometimes it wasn’t their fault as the child.
2. Seek Counseling.
Change can be hard enough for youth, but when we are older, we can sometimes get stuck in our own way. Having a Godly counselor who will hold you accountable through your journey to change the way you have been and seek a better way of doing things is critical in this stage of life.
3. Accept your Consequences.
The reality is, you may apologize, you may change, you may do all you need to do that is right, and your child still may not choose to come home. While this doesn’t seem fair, it is in fact is a consequence of your years of actions in the home or directly towards them. If you are truly repentant over your mistakes, you must also be willing to accept the responsibility of the consequences of such mistakes and know that trust may not be able to be rebuilt, they may not be in a place to accept your repentance yet, or they may need more time to heal from the trauma of the circumstances. We don’t get to dictate what happens after the "I’m sorry," but how we want to, says more about our us then it does about them.
4. Stay in God’s Word.
Grow in biblical truth. Learn all you can about the ways God calls us to parent. Learn all you can about your weak areas whether it be anger, addiction, abuse, or neglect. Observe the cycles within your family, and past generations. Do all you can to grow into a godly parent, even if your child never comes back home. It may be beneficial to someone else in your shoes down the road. Don’t let the results you want block you from paving the pathway still.
5. Keep praying.
While God can’t reverse the consequences of our sins, sometimes He shows us an extended arm of favor and grace. His mercy never fails, but always surprises us. Continue to fall before His thrown asking Him to wreck you, change you and keep you on the right path so that you not only will continue to have a healthier home for them to come back to, but you will keep the right heart towards your son or daughter instead of resenting them for not giving you what you want (or playing the victim because you haven’t gotten such).
You can’t call your son/daughter a prodigal if you are the one who pushed them away. Own your part, fix what is yours, and never lose hope. With God – ALL things are possible.
If you missed part 1 of this blog that details what makes a child a prodigal, click here to read more.