For Prodigals and Those Who Love Them



The very word stirs quiet murmurs among parents gathered with friends, that pained glance and sympathetic nod. In a strange way we find some semblance of relief when we discover the people around us get it. They too have a prodigal in the family–a son or daughter, a mom or husband, a nephew or best family friend. It is not a badge of honor. But it is a badge, the kind with the black strip wrapped horizontally across, like the police officer expressing grief for a fallen comrade.

To Be a Prodigal

To be a prodigal means one is recklessly spending, not counting the cost, being wasteful, perhaps with another’s possessions or with trust capital or with her or his own life. Tim Keller, in his book The Prodigal God, rightfully suggests God is a prodigal, extravagant with his grace.

But his is not the extravagance of which we speak here.

Some of you reading this are a prodigal. You have moved away from what are the better scenarios for your life. Deep down you likely know it, which is why you remain so conflicted. Relationships and responsibilities are now geared to cater to your drive to be free from whatever it was you thought you should abandon.

But Are You Really Free?

“Well,” you say, “I’m finding myself.” Really? At what cost?

“Well, who are you to judge me?” Honestly, there is no judgment here. It is that quiet voice within you that is your judge, which is why your soul remains in such turmoil, and you are determined to hide.

“I’ll make things right later. Right now I just want to have fun.” But how “fun” is it really, especially when those who love you best and most are devastated because they see you run away? How much fun are you making things for them?

“Who cares about them?” you ask. Right. That is the point, I suppose. Prodigals often only think of themselves.

To Be Fair

To be fair, there may be real wounds or traumas that give shape to such, and being lost in whatever seems right for “self” is real and powerful. But if that is you, now is the time for you to return home. Cry out to God, confess to him you are tired and broken and want his best. Enter into the raw humanity and true humility of the son who had run from his father only to discern his life was a mess and it was time to go home (see Luke 15:11 and following).

Now is the time for you to return home. Cry out to God, confess to him you are tired and broken and want his best.

Stop “Shoulding” All Over Yourself

Some of you have prodigals, and your love for them causes you to hurt in ways you never knew possible. You spend your time asking yourself what you did wrong, what you should have done differently, and what might it take to repair the matter. As one friend of mine winsomely says, “Stop shoulding all over yourself!” It will not solve a thing.

Besides, there is Genesis 3. My friend Larry Osborne recently reminded me and some others that Adam and Eve were the very first prodigals, yet they grew up in an absolutely perfect environment with the Perfect Parent—God himself.

They were created in God’s image, endowed with finite versions of many of God’s amazing attributes; things like wisdom and discernment and a work ethic and love. “God blessed them,” the text tells us in Genesis 1:28. They had everything they needed and more. He gave them dominion over all creation. Hardly anything was beyond their reach.

They lived in an environment void of shame. There was nothing that should make them scramble to make their lives work. They had meaningful relationships with one another and God. They had purpose. They had the privilege of walking with God in the cool of the Garden. Theirs was a world that was beyond amazing!

But they came to believe it was not enough, so they rebelled, forfeiting all of it, determined to do their own thing. I suppose the question is this: if even God’s first children should dis all that God had provided, including him who was the ultimate Parent, why should we believe we can control the choices of those we love? It simply is not that simple.

It need not be our fault.

But we hurt. And wait. And pray. Oh, we pray! And hope. And, perhaps like God did with Adam and Eve, we speak truth with love (cp. Gen. 3:14-19), draw boundaries where appropriate (cp. Gen. 3:23-24), lavish grace should they return (cp. Gen.3:21), and also like God we carry on with our lives, faithfully remembering there are “other sheep” (cp. John 10:16) upon whom we must pour out our love.