When someone mentions the word “Prodigal,” my mind instantly recalls images of Sunday School flannelgraphs (yes, I just aged myself). These memories include a defiant son standing before his father, demanding his inheritance. Then there was the figure of a grieving and broken father gazing after the distant figure of his son, racing towards ruin, shame, and destruction. The next photo in the series was the shocking depiction of the son destitute and driven by starvation, groveling on hands and knees in pig slop.
We know and cling to the end of this story. My favorite image was of the father embracing his prodigal son, offering grace when the son deserved judgment, and providing clothes, jewelry, and a party instead of condemnation and banishment. Yet, there is a piece of this story that is often rushed past or perhaps even overlooked. There weren’t any photos illustrating the hardest season of life for the Father of the prodigal son. This is a season I refer to as the “In-between.” While this parable illustrates our relationship with our Heavenly Father, we might find ourselves the parent of a prodigal son or daughter. One day this story we remember from Sunday school, with a “Happily ever after” ending, might become a never-ending nightmare in which we live. We know God knows their heart, sees where they are, and is aware of their involvement in sin and rebellion. We know he is rich in mercy, grace, and love. We believe that there is no heart too hard, cold, or far away to be reached by his voice and presence. BUT right here, right now, our child is an enemy of God and contending against a Heavenly King of holiness, justice, and judgment. While they will always be our flesh and blood child, we understand that to be enemies with God is to be, in some respect, spiritual enemies to us as well. Knowing this can make our day grueling as we navigate through the in-between, a season when love is put to the test, as is our obedience to Christ (Lk 14:26). This season can produce sleepless nights and days filled with sorrow, regret, shame, anger, terror, and fear.
Their hearts rest in the hand of God, not our own….
The reality of life is that no matter how well we parent and teach or how often we took our children to church and VBS, their life and choices might bring great sorrow into our hearts and homes by rejecting faith in Christ and rebelling against God. BUT, God declares that our hearts are precious to Him, and that he alone turns and redeems them. (Psalm 49:7, Proverbs 21:1) No matter how faithfully we are to addressed sin, disciplined Biblically, and vigilantly take advantage of every opportunity to teach our children about God, heaven & hell, right & wrong,,,, we might eventually find ourselves looking into the face (or even the fading form) of our very own prodigal child.
The journey of a prodigal often begins within the walls of their own home
While some kids might leave home in pursuit of the prodigal lifestyle , or be lured into it, oftentimes, that journey begins within the protection and supervision of our own homes. Long before they have the opportunity and resources to pursue the impulses of rebellious and fleshly desire, we might watch in bewilderment as they begin the journey to reject the truth of the Gospel and the beauty of a redemptive relationship with the Creator and Lord of all. The life of a prodigal can begin deep within the hearts of our children, who naturally despise boundaries, question restrictions, and chafe at the idea of being told they do not get to decide how to live their life. Add to this are the countless voices encouraging them to question, reject, and walk away from their Creator and Lord. Over the years, I have heard the words, “I don’t want to be put in a box,” tumble from the lips of a defiant child, more than I care to count. You see, I am the parent of a prodigal child who still lives at home with us. Though we live together, eat, laugh, play games together, and celebrate holidays and special occasions together,….. with each passing day, I watch my child spiritually rebel and run from God. No matter how hard I try, I can not extract myself from participation in my own “Prodigal” story. Every day I am forced to watch as a heart grows more cold, defiant, rebellious, and resistant to the truth of the Gospel. Our home isn’t a war zone, and there aren’t huge shouting matches, but the spiritual chasm between us continues to grow.
They are asleep….
Months ago, the Lord used a wise and Godly woman to encourage, challenge, and bless me through this season. She has walked the path I now travel, and her heart also grieved over her own prodigal child. She shared a book (Praying for Your Prodigal Daughter) and a story that has blessed and radically transformed how I pray for my child. This story is found in Luke and while this account isn’t about our children, there is a rich nugget of truth found within the verses:
Luke 8:46, 49-56
Just then, a man named Jairus came. He was a leader of the synagogue. He fell down at Jesus’ feet and pleaded with Him to come to his house because he had an only daughter about 12 years old, and she was at death’s door.
While He was still speaking, someone came from the synagogue leader’s house, saying, “Your daughter is dead. Don’t bother the Teacher anymore.”
When Jesus heard it, He answered him, “Don’t be afraid. Only believe, and she will be made well.” After He came to the house, He let no one enter with Him except Peter, John, James, and the child’s father and mother. Everyone was crying and mourning for her. But He said, “Stop crying, for she is not dead but asleep.”
They started laughing at Him because they knew she was dead. So He took her by the hand and called out, “Child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and she got up at once.
According to all the physical laws of nature, this young girl was dead. There was no sight in her lifeless eyes, and she can not hear the sound of her grieving parents. There were no breaths of air gulped into her lungs. Death had come, her spirit and soul departed, and her body was beginning to decay. While someone told the man to not “bother” Jesus, because in human terms it was too late, Jesus told the desperate father two things: Don’t be filled with fear, and Only believe (that life is still possible when the Son of God is present). As they approached the house, all present were in the process of weeping and mourning her death. Likely there were hired “mourners” in attendance stoking and maintaining the wails of grief and loss. Jesus then separated the parents and his disciples from the mourners. The crowd who had given up hope and did not believe Jesus could alter the outcome of the story. In fact, when Jesus told them to stop crying because she “slept”, scripture tells us they laughed him to scorn. But Jesus, the Son of God, who knew the will and plan of the Father, went into the house. With the disciples and her parents looking on, Jesus commanded, “Child, get up.” The bible tells us Her spirit immediately returned, and she rose from her death bed.
“She isn’t dead. She is just sleeping.”
“Δεν είναι νεκρή, κοιμάται”
Debbie’s testimony and application of this truth brought me to tears and helped to frame the petitions of my heart that I have prayed for my child every day since. Debbie reminded me that as long as there is life and breath in my dear child’s lungs, she isn’t hopelessly spiritually dead; she is simply sleeping. My prodigal child is sleeping because of the illness of a sinful heart. She can’t hear His voice or understand His truth. She can’t see the beauty and Glory of a Merciful and loving God. His majesty does not bring her to her knees in fear and terror, and his beauty does not captivate her heart and draw her into a redemptive relationship with Him… In the evenings, I often creep silently to her room at the end of the hall. I put my hand on her door, and I pray like crazy for her. I still pray for a hedge of protection, exposure of sin, and for mercy and grace to flow down on her like rain, but more than anything, I cry out to God, asking that He would awaken the spiritually dead heart of my child, calling her out of darkness and into light. A while back, I snuck outside her door and, with a sharpie, wrote above the trim and just out of sight the Greek phrase “She is not dead, she is sleeping.” I will continue to pray for her own spiritual resurrection and day of great awakening when Jesus speaks into her heart and proclaims, “child, get up!” Will you join me as I pray for my child? I will join you as you petition the Lord of mercy for your child’s spiritual resurrection as well!