Having a prodigal in our lives can expose us—in a good way—although the exposure doesn’t always feel beneficial at the start. We might not be prodigal ourselves, but ultimately, the crisis shows where we may have gone off the rails or developed false beliefs. God may allow or ordain circumstances that expose our attitudes and beliefs, revealing our deep need for God’s ongoing help.

When my son Christian was still in high school and going through his rebellious season, I (Jim) was senior pastor of Real Life Ministries, as I am now. Our town, Post Falls, Idaho, has a population of about 35,000, and our church has about 6,000 people, so we have a fairly large presence in town. Christian was known in high school, in the community, by the police, and by the church. Christian embarrassed himself and my wife and me publicly on many occasions. It was painful. His DUI and arrests for that and other things put us all in a poor light.

When a prodigal leaves home (or church), chaos and tension can enter a family. It’s much like a hurricane sweeping through. The prodigal leaves and others are left to clean up the mess. Some people try to ignore the problem; some become angry and blame others. Some give in to depression, and in grief over the broken relationships, they withdraw and isolate themselves. Some people live in regret—they dwell on what they wish they’d done or hadn’t done. For me, though I had been sober for many years, the temptation to retreat into alcohol was the strongest it had ever been.

When Christian was going through his difficult season, Lori and I disagreed on how to parent him and sometimes argued about it. The crisis exposed weaknesses in our marriage and in us as individuals. In Lori’s case, she would tell you today she was an enabler. She loved Christian so much that she was willing to do anything for him, even inadvertently helping him continue in his sin. In my case, I was too harsh. Often, my first reaction toward Christian was disappointed anger. Lori and I weren’t on the same page. We were desperate, and our desperation exposed just how much we needed God. I was angry at God, ashamed of myself, angry at my wife.

I needed to learn to let God show me where I had made mistakes, and let him meet me in my sin. I needed to allow God to work on my anger and fears. Lori feared that if we laid down the law too strongly, then Christian would run and never return. She believed if we did the right thing (whatever that was), it would cause Christian to change. I had gotten to the point where I believed we had to force him to do the right thing. So I swung the pendulum too far in the direction of force.

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Hope for the Prodigal: Bringing the Lost, Wandering, and Rebellious Home
Hope for the Prodigal: Bringing the Lost, Wandering, and Rebellious Home
Baker Books
268 pp., 14.62
Buy Hope for the Prodigal: Bringing the Lost, Wandering, and Rebellious Home from Amazon