Question: What advice do you have for a mom or dad who has a child that has become estranged from God and the church?

Great question!  Applicable to us all! 

Luke 15:11-24 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons.  The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.  “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.  So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.  He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.  “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’  So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.  “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Whenever I hear of a family struggling with a loved one becoming estranged from God, my heart breaks because we’ve all probably seen this situation either in our immediate families or our extended families.  But I’m immediately drawn to these endearing words of our Savior in the parable of the prodigal son.  In this parable, you can see that it’s ok to love our loved ones from a distance, like the father that Jesus describes in this parable. 

The father let his son take his share of the inheritance; the father, though certainly heart-broke, watched his son go off and spend his inheritance on wild living.  And though the words of the text don’t say, you can bet the father continually prayed for his son’s well-being during his wild journey. 

In human relationships, let’s face it – it’s hard to let go, especially when it comes to our loved ones.  You see, we not only want our loved ones to conform to God’s will, but ultimately as moms and dads, we want them to conform to our will, too.  And so long as our will is in harmony with God’s will, that’s not a bad thing.  The problem is, when dealing with a wayward child, you can’t change human behavior.  You can change your own behaviors in life, but you can’t change what others are going to do or how they are going to live. 

This is why we all get so frustrated when we can’t get a husband or a wife to bend to our will or when we can’t get a son or a daughter to bend to our will.  Sometimes, we must let people go, even if it means watching them go into a life that is “wayward” or “prodigal” and estranged from God. 

We can pray for them, and we can be prepared to pick up the pieces when they fall.  You see, sin leaves a trail of destruction in a person’s life.  And unfortunately, not all prodigals have happy endings to their life here on earth.  In other words, sometimes there are prodigals that never do come to their senses like we see in Jesus’ story.  But as Christians, we can continue to hold out hope that our sons and daughters or whomever we are struggling with will repent of their sin and place their trust back into Jesus for forgiveness.  When or if this happens, Jesus offers us insight as to what we do next. 

We love them like God loved us.  You see, Christians, of all people in this world, ought to best know how to handle prodigals in this life because by nature, we are all prodigals.  We came into this world estranged from God, dead in our sins, the Bible tells us (Ephesians 2:1).  But God washed us of our sin through the waters of Holy Baptism.  Yet, even after baptism, some have spent their teenage years or maybe even much of their adult life rebelling against authority, rebelling against the church, rebelling against God, yet God in his rich love and grace was always there, ready to pick up the pieces when his wayward church was ready to come home and repent of sin. 

No wonder St. John writes, “How great is the love that the Father lavishes upon us that we should be called children of God! and that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1) although we deserve pig’s feed like the prodigal in our Lord’s story, God instead robes us with the riches of his Son’s righteousness, and forgives us of all our sins, and gives heaven to us as our eternal home.    

My advice to parents struggling with a prodigal – love them from a distance, pray for them, and be prepared to pick up the broken pieces with God’s love and unconditional forgiveness! 

Blessings on your week!

Pastor Matthew P. DeNoyer