Part 1: The Prodigal Arrives

parenting the prodigal

There was a man who had two sons.The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Luke 15:11-12

Jesus begins the legendary story of the prodigal son abruptly. Without context or foreshadowing we are dropped into the middle of a family in crisis. A family that once was functioning suddenly is not: The younger son has rejected his father’s authority and requested his inheritance, in essence declaring his father dead to him.

First Appearances

Let’s pause briefly. If you have been called to parent a prodigal you can relate to what just happened here. It is that moment, the one where you are confronted with information about your child that challenges everything you thought you knew. Perhaps it is:

  • the website you accidentally found on the computer
  • the cut that can’t be accidental
  • the unexpected conversation with a friend’s parent
  • the call from the principal or the police

Only in retrospect do you see it coming. Until that moment trust and unconditional love obscure the darkness you later realize had been creeping in along the edges for some time.

First Response

It appears that the father divides his property between his sons without protest, handing over half of his estate to his rebellious child.

If you’re like me at this point you’re thinking, “Well no wonder he’s rebelling if you’ve indulged him like that all these years?”

But this is Jesus telling the story; certainly there is more going on. In verse 12 the son requests ousia, the Greek word for property, possessions and estate. “The part that falls to him” comes from two words: meros which means destiny and epiballō which means what belongs to me, my share. So it roughly reads like:

The son asked for what was coming to him.

So does the father gives him what he asks for? Not quite. His father gives him the Greek word bios, translated life or that by which life is sustained. And herein lies the paradox of parenting: Little paradigms of the Fall our children rebel against our authority, demanding gifts they haven’t earned, oblivious to their selfishness or its cost. This tension is depicted beautifully in Shel Silverstein’s classic, The Giving Tree.

parenting a prodigal






The Consequences

The father could have said, “No, go to your room.” After all it is clear the boy is not in his right mind. But the father appears to value his son’s freedom to love – or not – more than he values his desire to experience that love. Or stated another way if the father holds his son captive to his will he risks losing his heart.

Alternatively, he could have kicked him out and disowned him. But that seems premature as there is no indication this was a pattern — quite the contrary — it appears to come out of no where. Perhaps the father recognized this as a temporary, if necessary, season of refinement.

His response is the only one truly available: He grants his son’s request. He gives him his life, his freedom and the accountability for the consequences that go with them. Shortly thereafter we learn:

…the younger son packed up everything he owned and left for a foreign country, where he wasted all his money in wild living. Luke 15:13

You have to believe the father saw this coming.

Yet here is where the power of the father’s true inheritance  — his bios — is made manifest. While his son quickly squandered his ousia, his worldly wealth, he could not touch the eternal wealth reserved in escrow for him: the faith, hope and love deposited in his son’s heart from the day he was born. The wise father knew these were the resources that would sustain his son and ultimately draw him home again.

The Application

  • Are you intentional about investing for your children’s futures not with worldly wealth, but with the enduring riches of faith, hope and love?
  • Do you allow your children to experience the rightful consequences of their actions and choices, appropriate to their ages and maturity?
  • Do you assure them, especially in times of need, of your unwavering, unconditional love ?

If you answer yes to these questions, then when your children enter seasons of rebellion, be they short or long, you can wait, like the wise father, with hope and confidence that the seeds you sowed will draw your child back home.

Please feel free to share your experiences of parenting your child through a prodigal season.

Read Part 2: The Prodigal Departs: Here Come the Consequences

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