If you’re the mother of a prodigal, you may know Psalm 56, or at least verse 8, by heart. David prayed these words during what was likely one of the darkest and most frightening times in his life. “Put my tears in your bottle,” he cried. “Are they not in your book?”
David fought a national enemy—the mighty Philistines, but his words could belong to any one of us who grieve a much more personal “enemy”—one that is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh—our prodigal children.
“Be gracious to me, God, for a man is trampling me,” David cried, “he fights and oppresses me all day long” (Psalm 56:1 CSB). David fought his battle with slings and spears, but our conflict is no less fierce. Someone we love more than life itself has turned their back on God and possibly on us as well.
We wonder how our heart continues to beat as it’s pummeled by blow after crushing blow. We cry ourselves to sleep and cry ourselves awake, tormented by “what ifs” and every new revelation of our child’s sin. A thousand bottles couldn’t contain the oceans of tears we cry. A million journal pages couldn’t capture the fear and disappointment we feel.
Yet God promises that He sees the tears we cry. He knows the pain we suffer.
We are not alone.
If, like me, you’re experiencing the soul-crushing heartbreak of a prodigal child, allow me to share six truths to cling to while you pray.
1. God weeps for prodigals too.
Jesus wept over His beloved Jerusalem, the City of David. He longed to gather His rebellious children close and provide the help they desperately needed but refused to accept. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” He lamented, “who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34 CSB).
God weeps for our children too. He weeps for them out of sorrow and for you out of empathy. He knows us so intimately that every tear we shed has meaning to Him. And while we agonize over the outcome of our children’s choices, He knows that one day He will wipe every tear from our eyes. No longer will we experience death or mourning, crying or pain (Rev. 21:4).
2. God is sovereign over rebellion.
The rebellious prophet Jonah ran as hard as he could away from God. He wanted nothing to do with God’s plan for his life.
“Jonah got up to flee to Tarshish from the LORD’S presence” (Jonah 1:3 CSB).
But God saw him and pursued him.
“But the LORD threw a great wind onto the sea, and such a great storm arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break apart” (v. 4).
God chastised Jonah.
“The LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (v. 17).
And He drew Jonah back.
“As my life was fading away,” Jonah prayed from the belly of the fish, “I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, to your holy temple” (2:7 CSB).
God knows exactly where your child is. He has the power to engineer circumstances large and small to pursue your child and draw him or her to Himself. Sometimes the goodness of God leads men to repentance (Rom. 2:4), and sometimes His judgment breaks their stony wills. We can trust God to know which is most effective.
3. There’s only one perfect parent.
At night the voices whisper loudly. You lost your temper—a lot. You didn’t pray every day. You didn’t take her to church often enough. You took her to church too often. You sent him to public school. You sent him to Christian school. You homeschooled her. It’s all your husband’s fault; if you’d married someone else it would have been different. It’s all your fault; if you’d been a better parent, this never would have happened.
When Satan (and your own heart) accuses you, it helps to remember that Adam and Eve had a perfect parent, yet they still chose to go their own way. James 1:14 explains how each person must bear the responsibility for his or her own choices and sin—that includes our prodigal children. “But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire.”
We can’t take responsibility for that.
4. God can use the sins of others (including yours) to accomplish His purpose in your child’s life.
If you have sinned against your child (and we all have, either intentionally or unintentionally), God is sovereign even over that sin. If someone else has sinned against your child, God is sovereign over that as well.
Some of us came to Christ later in life and lived a godless example in front of our children. Although we’ve repented, forsaken, and asked forgiveness of God and our children, we find it hard not to blame ourselves for their rebellion. Other times we see events in our children’s lives that are outside our control and wonder if these events pushed them over the prodigal precipice.
The story of Joseph should give us hope. Listen to what he said to his brothers as they stood before him in fear and guilt over their sinful actions toward him: “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” (Genesis 50:20 CSB, emphasis mine).
Joseph understood that while God didn’t cause the sin that changed his life forever, He was able to use the sin to accomplish something good. He can do the same for our children.
5. Your prodigal should not steal your joy or your faith.
Some days you feel as though your heart is crushed under the weight of a thousand sorrows. You wonder if you can climb out of bed and face another day. Your mind is consumed with thoughts of your prodigal child. Where is he? Is she safe? Who is he with? These thoughts are normal and should be our impetus to pray—and pray hard.
But if we allow our children’s rebellion to strip us of our faith and joy, we might be guilty of idolatry. Am I worshiping my children instead of worshiping God? Do I value them so much that their absence can strip me of my faith? Of my ability to experience joy? Of my desire to serve and worship God?
Some of the darkest times of my parenting life have been some of the sweetest times of my spiritual life. When I come to God broken, helpless, frightened, and weak, He meets me there. He speaks words of hope to my heart and becomes my mighty warrior. He quiets my frightened spirit and strengthens my trembling soul. Although I feel as though everything precious has been stripped away, I discover that the greatest treasure remains. This treasure is Him.
The prophet Habakkuk describes what steadfast faith looks like:
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there is no fruit on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though the flocks disappear from the pen
and there are no herds in the stalls,
yet I will celebrate in the LORD;
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!” (Hab. 3:17–18 CSB).
6. God can restore and redeem your prodigal.
When I’m tempted to lose heart, I remember how God saved me, my husband, and millions of other rebellious people reveling in our sin and running hard away from Him. Truth is, no one seeks after God. But in kindness and love He reaches down, lifts us from the miry clay, sets our feet on solid rock, and puts a new song in our mouths—even praise to God. As He did for me, He can do for my children. No one deserves salvation, yet God freely offers and orchestrates it.
Sometimes He uses the prayers of godly parents to bring it about.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
Brokenhearted mama, it’s okay to cry. But cry in the arms of your Savior. Don’t be afraid to ask Him for great and mighty things on behalf of your child. Trust Him for a miracle.
Remember these two things:
Jesus has come to seek and to save the lost.
Nothing is too hard for Him.