Prodigals and those who love them

Even if you are the parent of a child who has never rebelled, been in trouble, or broken your heart, please read the rest of this blog.  If you have never encountered a day of difficulty in raising your children, some of us have and you need to understand us.  You may not have experienced a rocky time as a parent, but I wonder if you gave your parents a fit from time to time.  All that to say, I hope there is a word of wisdom here for all of us.

When your child messes up “big time” (I will let you define that term), what is your response?  As a person who has walked this path, I have learned a great deal.  First of all, I understood pretty quickly that you may not think much of your child’s actions, but you still love your child. Nothing can shake that basic commitment.  No matter what age they are or what they do, they are always bound to you by parental love.  Even so, love does not always mean saying “yes.”  Sometimes it means saying “no,”  “not now,”  “you need help,” or “you must accept the consequences of your action.”

Second, when your child gets into trouble, you find out that those who are really your friends will still be your friends.  If you share your heartbreaking experience of parenting with a person and they respond with well-meaning but inappropriate advice or turn their back on you, then that person is not your friend and never was.  You don’t need them.

Third, I have found that there is support available when you think you have failed as a parent.  You discover that this is not a unique experience.  No matter why your child ended up in trouble—bad choices, bad company or bad habits—there are other people who have experienced the same challenge or who are going through similar hard times right now.  Many will want to walk with you through this time.  They are not inviting you to a “pity party,” but they are offering to provide support through a time of the turmoil.

We have all read Jesus’ parable in Luke about the son who disappointed his father and “went off into the far country.”  When I first learned that this parable was not really about the prodigal son but the loving father, the whole story took on a different perspective for me.  Whether I identify with the rebellious son, the self-righteous older brother, or the grieving father, I can be thankful that there is a loving God who is ready to provide forgiveness and reconciliation.


Ircel Harrison

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Ircel Harrison is Coaching Coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is Associate Professor of Ministry Praxis at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He blogs at His Twitter feed is @ircel.

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  • 5thPew

    There is more need for this column, and more peace it can provide, than most of us know. It’s not that we disagree; it’s just that we don’t know. But those who need this column most know.

    Thanks, Ircel, for this word of insight and encouragment. We who need it are legion and usually suffer in silence lest acknowledging our pain publically in a faith community only bring more pain rather than help.

  • Ircel

    I know this is true, so I rejoice when the church is really the church and provides the support parents need during times of struggle.   

  • Carolyn Anderson

    Words are insufficient to express the meaning of true friends who walk the second mile with you, your child through the difficult days. Thanks for the words and the friendship.