Parenting a Prodigal

Julie GanschowFor Those Seeking HopeLeave a Comment

parenting prodigal

Today’s post by Julie Ganschow of Reigning Grace Counseling Center in Kansas City, MO, encourages parents of prodigal children who have stopped walking in the Christian faith. This post appeared first on Julie’s blog. It is reprinted here with her permision.

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 1 Timothy 4:1 (NASB)


When you learn that your child has abandoned their faith in Christ, your first inclination is to find something or someone to blame. Was it that new friend? Was it the school they’re attending? Was it the influence of a public figure or a boyfriend or girlfriend? We know that bad company corrupts good character (1 Cor. 15:33), and we know that the Scriptures talk about listening to foolish talk and how it corrupts (Eph. 5:4). But are those really the cause of a person abandoning their faith?

The ugly truth is that when a person abandons their faith they are revealing an aspect of what is going on within them; they are revealing the contents of their heart. They have ceased to believe biblical truth about God, the world, and their place in the world. These spiritual rebels leave their faith for a variety of reasons that have been well documented elsewhere. Reading such articles leave parents with little hope their children will repent and return to faith in Christ.

The Mindset of the Parent of a Prodigal

When your child announces s/he is renouncing his faith in orthodox Christianity what a parent hopes is that s/he is “merely” prodigal. You hope and pray s/he has taken temporary leave of their spiritual senses and has “only” run away to chase after something in the world. We know they walk away from the confines and restrictions of their faith thinking it will mean freedom, and fun, and experiences beyond what they have found in the church or living under the authority of the word of God. As older and wiser people, most of whom have seen or experienced what the world has to offer, we know what awaits the prodigal.

Sooner or later, they discover the grass is not really greener on the other side of the fence. In fact, the grass is almost always growing over a broken septic tank. They realize that stepping outside of how the Bible says we are to live is not quite as wonderful as they thought. And they discover while wallowing in the midst of the contents of that septic tank, that what they thought would bring them such happiness and freedom instead brings them misery and shame and sorrow. While you are in the mire is nothing like looking over your shoulder at what you gave up to see how sweet it is. By God’s grace, that is often what leads them home.

“I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7 (NASB)

When a Prodigal Returns

Real Love for familiesAs parents, our joy overflows when they return. We desire to pick up right where life left off, but they (and we) are changed. Sometimes, there are steep consequences to being a prodigal that carry over into the rest of their lives even if they repent. Perhaps an illness or other physical consequences of their prodigal living. Perhaps there are broken relationships that cannot be restored. There is no doubt that all sin carries consequences.

When our children repent and are restored to their faith they bring the lessons learned and experiences with them back into the repentant life. Many times, their lives are much richer for having spent that time as a prodigal. They have a greater appreciation of grace and mercy, and it seems their love for God is stronger than the love that is untested. Their gratitude for forgiveness and restoration is unparalleled.

When a Prodigal Stays Away

The more frightening reality is the prodigal that never returns. The prodigal that becomes apostate. The prodigal that with purpose and intention throws away his or her belief in the Word of God, the deity of God, the reality of heaven and hell. This is the one for whom no sacrifice is left.

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. 2 Peter 2:20-21 (NASB)

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins. Hebrews 10:26 (NASB)

You cannot minister truth to an apostate. They will have none of it. This person believes they have been unshackled from the restrictive rigid and foolish religiosity that once bound them. They are full of the wisdom of the world, they are enlightened and how have no need for the principles and precepts they once held so dear. It is heartbreaking for those who love them to watch this take place.

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say, “He traps the wise in the snare of their own cleverness.” 1 Cor. 3:19 (NLT)

Where will they go when tragedy strikes and there is no God to run to? Where will they turn in their darkest hour? Where will they find their wisdom when the wisdom of the world is ashes in their hands?

[Wisdom speaks] And you neglected all my counsel and did not want my reproof; I will also laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your dread comes, When your dread comes like a storm And your calamity comes like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come upon you.… Proverbs 1:25-27 (NASB)

This is most certainly heartbreaking, but the joy of the returning prodigal is something to behold. So we wait. We pray. We hope. We trust in God’s perfect plan for the prodigals that we love so deeply.

Your Turn

Are you the parent of a prodigal? Has your prodigal returned? Is he or she staying away? Are you losing hope? We encourage you to confide in a trustworthy Christian friend or contact us. We’d love to help you is this difficult time. Biblical Counseling Center has four locations in greater Chicagoland, and we offer Skype counseling to those who live out of the area. Contact us for help and hope.

Do you or someone you know need counseling?

We are passionate about helping hurting people. We provide Skype counseling for people across the country, and live counseling in 5 offices across the Chicagoland area.

Get Help Today

Are you interested in learning to counsel others?

We believe that the Bible has the answers for a hurting world. We are passionate about training people and churches, through online courses and events, to help those in need.

Learn More Today

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *