Wild child

One of the main reasons why Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (perhaps better called the parable of the two sons) is so well-known and well-loved is that it has multiple points of self-identification. Most of us know the taste and feel of rebellion against God and can identify with the prodigal son, throwing money around in vain search of fulfillment. Perhaps you have been the “good” son, sniffing at the sins of others.

Or maybe you resonate with the generous, grieving, patient father. Do you have a wild child? Or maybe you are close to somebody who does. I am struck by how many people I know who have adult children who have been in jail, are alcohol or drug abusers, are hopelessly in debt, have children out of wedlock, can’t hold a job, or who have abandoned the faith of their childhood. Normal discussions don’t seem to work—they just devolve into arguments and withdrawal. What to do?

I don’t have any easy answers, and you probably don’t either. If we did, there wouldn’t be any prodigals. Here are ten suggestions:

  1. Choose an attitude of unconditional love. Love the prodigals not because they deserve it, but in spite of the fact that they don’t. Love your prodigal the way Jesus Christ loves you.
  2. No shunning. If you shun your prodigal, you will cut off communication and drive the person to find acceptance in the worst places. Keeping the relationship open does not constitute endorsement of the prodigal’s lifestyle. It means that you care. You can’t influence somebody who can’t hear you.
  3. Listen first. Before you do any major talking, you need to know what you’re talking about. Listen more than you talk. Show respect, even when you don’t feel respect.
  4. Know your Scripture. If you are going to have the talk about someone’s immoral lifestyle, know what God says and where you can find those word s in the Bible.
  5. Have the talk. Keep it short and to the point. No nagging.
  6. Earn the right to say hard things by opening up your heart to the prodigal’s criticisms of your sins and flaws.
  7. Treat an adult prodigal like an adult. Eyes on a level.
  8. Don’t rush in to fix their problems. Sometimes pain is good—it can be God’s two-by-four to get people’s attention. Some people call this “tough love.”
  9. Be patient. Be as patient as the father in Jesus’ parable.
  10. Never stop praying.

Pastor Mark Jeske has been bringing the Word of God to viewers of Time of Grace since the program began airing in late 2001. A Milwaukee native, Pastor Jeske has served as the senior pastor at St. Marcus, a multicultural congregation on Milwaukee’s near north side since 1980. In addition, he is the author of six books and dozens of devotional booklets on various topics.

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