Things don’t always turn out like you planned. Ask Peter. The acknowledged leader of the apostles, we can see a roller-coaster existence in his rebuke by Jesus, his denial of him, and then his restoration. But then Jesus finishes his restoration by telling Peter that he would glorify Jesus by dying in a way he did not want to. Not exactly the way Peter saw his life turning it out.
Parents of prodigals can say the same thing. Dreams and hopes are dashed. We are surprised and overtaken by suffering. Despair and discouragement are just a few of the many emotions.
Dave Harvey steps into that swirling mess with us in his book Letting Go: Rugged Love for Wayward Souls. In this resource, Harvey and his coauthor Paul Gilbert develop the doctrine of prodigality. Their book breaks into three sections: Rugged Life, Rugged Love, Rugged Grace.
Harvey helpfully lays out his observations of the characteristics of the rebel: personal irresponsibility, victim centeredness, a declaration of independence, and a threat of flight. No Mom and Dad you are not going crazy if you have experienced these.
He also helps unpack the emotions that go with living with a prodigal. “To live with a prodigal is to live exposed.” Common emotions are shame, guilt, hopelessness, and fear.
Then Harvey transitions and unpacks what Rugged Love looks like. Rugged Love is: Strong enough to face evil, tenacious enough to do good, courageous enough to enforce consequences, resilient enough to forgive and trusting enough to pray boldly.
So what distinguishes saved sinners from wayward people? The former are aware of their sin. They know they are straying, and they seek out the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ. The wayward people, on the other hand, exhibit ongoing, willful, entrenched disobedience.
To put it simply, a wayward person is a fool who rejects right voices and renounces true roles.
Too many Christians unconsciously confuse the ability to influence with the power to determine an outcome.
The best way to serve a prodigal husband, sibling, or child is to insist they live in a world where sowing results in reaping and choices have consequences.
When we release prodigals to the fruit of their choices- instead of enabling them, controlling them, or bribing them- God’s redemptive work has a chance to run its course.
Being paired with a prodigal is a relational nightmare.
To love a prodigal is to live exposed.
Letting Go is the most theologically rich resource I have read on this topic. I would recommend it for parents of older prodigal children or an adult where one spouse is walking away from the Lord. In addition, pastors and counselors would be well served to read it. If you have not personally experienced a child or spouse walking away from the Lord, it will help you understand what a church member is going through.
Update: You can listen to my interview with Dave on my podcast here.
You can purchase your copy of Letting Go via Amazon here.