waiting for them to come home
When our youngest son Jonathan shares his journey to faith, he tells how he had hidden so much of his prodigal life from us. He hid it right under our noses, much of it in his room, under our roof. He was able to hide it from me, the Sherlock Holmes of mothers!
Speaking to our church one morning, Jonathan said, “See, you might not be walking with God but you too are facing your own desert of discontentment. Maybe you’ve looked for answers in philosophy, or science, or education, but they’ve let you down.
“Or maybe, like me, you fought against God by being the most cliché church brat ever and went into partying, drugs, and alcohol. How original. But those things let you down.
“You can fight against God, you can run from Him, you can say He does not exist—but it’s useless to fight against God. Why? Because He will never stop loving you, caring about you, thinking about you. It will never change the fact that He loved you so much that He sent His Son to die in your place.”
His exact words. He was owning it. And I was shedding tears of joy.
He gets it. He really does.
Only Jesus can do that.
You may think, hey, why so surprised? You trained your child “in the way he should go,” right?
Yes. I spent years training, and then years waiting . . . praying this would happen. I held on with all my might. There were times when it was frightening and painful.
I will never forget that first glimpse I had into his secret life. I was sitting on the edge of the bed in our bedroom, getting ready to say goodnight. Jonathan walked in, hair hanging over his downcast eyes, and asked if we had a minute to talk. He sounded serious. Uh oh. I braced myself.
A million scenarios rushed through my mind.
Jonathan, like Christopher, was always the sweetest boy. Nice. Polite. Respectful of his dad and me. Although he was in church every Sunday, I knew Jonathan wasn’t in a great place spiritually.
That night he calmly said, “Mom, Dad, I got busted.” I felt my heart pounding in my eardrums. The look on Greg’s face aged him years in a matter of seconds. “I got stopped by a police officer. He busted me for possession of marijuana.”
Jonathan? No. Not Jonathan.
That night, we experienced the undoing of an illusion.
I’d been living with an unspoken expectation. I thought experimenting with drugs was something kids only did because they’d never seen genuine Christianity lived out. We would parent differently. We would lead our little ones to Jesus. After all, we are the Jesus People generation, born in a revival, and our parenting—our kids—would be . . . different.
For a time as teenagers in the 60’s and early 70’s, Greg and I had lived in that world of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Tune in, turn on, drop out. But that was because we didn’t know better, right? We weren’t raised in Bible-teaching homes. We saw religion, but not a relationship with God outside of Sunday church. We didn’t know Jesus—but by golly, our kids would know Him. We were sure of that.
Christopher and Jonathan were raised in the way of the Lord. We weren’t overly strict or overly lenient either. We joyfully had regular devotions, prayers before bed, and before we started each day. Conversations were peppered with the Word of God. Weekly, if not twice weekly, we took our sons to church.
Our friends were pastors and church leaders who loved our kids and showed them a genuine Christian life—one that was far from boring. We were serious about our faith, but our house was always filled with laughter. Their “fun uncles” were men like motorcycle riding evangelist, Franklin Graham, and the “fastest flat-picking guitarist” Dennis Agajanian.
I homeschooled our sons, took them to youth group and camps led by young men who were on fire for the Lord. They were surrounded by men who lived, as well as preached, the gospel; men who really cared about my kids.
Simply put, a good, great, and terrifying gift . . . free will.
That night was the beginning of stricter curfews. Restricted cell phone use. No driving. Greg and I did all we could think of to know exactly where Jonathan was and who he was with.
Jonathan and I attended a class for families that was required by the misdemeanor. For the most part, it was a waste of time. Parents with weary faces and bored sons and daughters, listening to counselors who seemed oblivious to the spiritual battle waging for the souls of these kids.
The hardest part of being there wasn’t that others might recognize me. I was not embarrassed to be “that pastor’s wife” from a large church in the area. It was the heartbreak of seeing that Jonathan was not done with this phase of his life. He made it clear to me that he thought this was much ado about nothing.
I am generally a pretty optimistic person. But I had a very strong sense there was more heartache ahead for all of us. There was.
Tears. Sleepless nights. Guilt.
What did we do wrong? Too much discipline? Not enough discipline?
What now? We can’t watch him 24/7. How much freedom do we allow him? How soon do we give him our trust?
Jonathan would say, “Mom, don’t be so upset. It’s a minor thing. I wasn’t doing anything really bad. Chill out.”
I knew he hadn’t truly found what was missing. He was still trying to fill the God-shaped blank inside but he had to see it for himself. And only God could open his eyes.
Christian parents, why do we think this won’t happen to our kids? Through those hard and bumpy years between 16 and 22, I learned that raising children, there are no guarantees. Nor are there quick fixes to problems like this.
So you pray.
Teach when given the opportunity. Keep the lines of communication open. Love them. Assure them you forgive. And wait.
I had to realize that I could not take the blame for Jonathan’s choices. By the same token, as for where Jonathan is now, I cannot take the credit either.
As I write this, I am grateful. So. Very. Blessed. Grateful as only the mother of a returned prodigal can be. But I know so many who are still waiting, praying, for their children to come home.
It’s not within our power to open their eyes to see their need for a Savior. It’s not possible for us to instill their hearts with love for God. If we could, we would! But can I tell you, there is a safe place to shed those tears.
You are not alone, not forgotten.
We have a Heavenly Father who is beside you right now, and He has prodigal children too. We need to realize this and release all our what-ifs and if-onlys to God.
So keep on loving your prodigal. Lean into God’s great comfort. Seek wisdom. Keep praying. He isn’t letting this pain go to waste, it is transforming you.
Repent. Pray big, bold prayers. And trust.
The goal of mothering is not to be a perfect mom who creates perfect kids. It is knowing and walking closely with our perfect God so we can keep pointing our children to Him.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 2 Peter 3:8-9 ESV