Parenting the Prodigal

Mother Daughter Conflict

By far the most difficult season of life for my wife and I were the years of dealing with wayward children.

Nothing brings more pain, doubt, confusion, frustration, stress, anger, and depression than watching your child, whom you love with every fiber of your being, walk in complete defiance and contradiction to your deepest convictions.

It is the death of a dream and the birth of a nightmare from which you cannot awaken.

You can only watch helplessly as your child races to a life of self-destruction. And no matter how many prayers you pray; no matter how much you plead, bargain, or lecture; no matter how rationally and logically you explain the inevitable consequences of their choices, the child seems hell bent (pun intended) to destroy their future and rip out your heart.

And for the Christian parent the pain is amplified a thousandfold. For a church leader, a million.

Not only are we struggling with self-inflicted torture as our mind churns over and over the singular phrase, “Where did I go wrong?” But as a Christian parent we hear a voice echoing verses like, “Train up a child in the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it.”

I’m not only a colossal failure as a parent, I’m the worst kind of failure. Not only was I not good enough as a parent, but I obviously wasn’t good enough as a Christian.  Good Christians always have good kids, right?

It’s enough to drive even the strongest Christian parent into the deepest depression imaginable.  I know, because I was there.

But it was at my lowest that God mercifully came to me with a truth that changed my life.

We were in Lancaster, PA on vacation. We decided to attend a show about the book of Genesis entitled “In the Beginning” at a Christian theater (Sight and Sound). We had just gone through yet another major setback with our kids and I was seriously considering whether or not I should resign from my church and retreat in shame and defeat. “Who was I kidding? I’m not worthy to be a pastor. I should just throw in the towel and step out of ministry.”

As these thoughts raced through my mind, the show began. As one might imagine, they began at the beginning. It was a marvelous visualization of the creation leading up to the apex of God’s creative intent – human beings. God, as a loving heavenly Father, taught the new couple how to live in perfect peace, harmony and joy. He gave them everything they needed to live a life of complete abundance. He spared nothing, save one thing. Out of love, He instructed them not to take of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. He warned them of the severe consequences that would unfold if they chose to disobey Him.

Of course, you know the rest of the story.

They blew it. They chose death instead of life; darkness in place of light; shame over love. And with that choice, they brought sin and pain and death and hell into this world.  The consequences for which we are still suffering to this very day.

As I watched the play, still distracted by the storm of emotions due to my failure as a parent, I heard the still small voice begin speaking gently, “If even God couldn’t keep His kids from screwing up, what makes you think you can?”

Suddenly, a small ray of hope began to shine again in my heart. As it always does, TRUTH quelled the storm.

A second thought emerged, “Did Adam and Eve’s failure as God’s kids make God a failure as a parent?” Of course not!

That night, this truth set me free and it has been an anchor for me for many years now:

Successful Parenting is not Measured by Successful Kids

My grade as a parent is not determined by my child’s responses, but by mine.  What makes me or anyone else a successful parent is when we parent by God’s grace and truth. At the end of the day I cannot control the outcome, but I can determine to be God-honoring and God pleasing by His grace at work in me.

And so once again, even in the area of parenting, I have learned this simple lesson: Live for an audience of one.

To hear my daughter’s side of the story along with my message, “Surviving Teens” watch this:

Surviving Teens

8 comments on “Parenting the Prodigal
  1. CK says:

    Thanks so much for this post, Pastor Brian. I really needed to read that. I’m going through the same thing and don’t anticipate it getting any easier any time soon. I’m very familiar with the guilt and the what-ifs. You’re right though that at some point we just have to let go and trust.It’s certainly not easy though.

    • Brian Moss says:

      I wish I could tell you that once you “get it” that you stop struggling with the guilt. Sadly, it’s a constant struggle that parents face. We have to keep reminding ourselves over and over that in our child’s lives we’re guides not gods. We can only steer them in the right direction but we cannot transform their heart. That’s between them and God.

  2. erin wiggins says:

    thank you so much for posting this!! I have two young boys so I am not going through this yet, however I did stumble upon this blog and post at the perfect time. A co worker is going through this and is just plain heart broken. I have shared this blog and video with her. She certainly is not alone and is she is aware of that; however seeing your post and previous series on this topic will be exactly what she needs right now.

    • Brian Moss says:

      So glad that it can be of some help. Blessings!

      • Lori Tilghman says:

        I am the co-worker of whom Erin speaks. I was crying before even watching the video! Thank you for being so transparent! Watching your child make bad choices IS so painful! I love that God reassured you by reminding you that His kids messed up, too! Your daughter’s testimony reminds me of His faithfulness and gives me hope. I can’t wait to hear my daughter’s testimony one day! He is teaching ME about His faithfulness and giving more depth to MY testimony through this valley. I certainly wouldn’t want to re-live the past month but the relationship I’m continuing to build with my God has been SO worth it!

  3. kelley says:

    Pray for my daughter. Our story is so similar! Is there a way I can shoe her your daughter’s testimony without the “prodigal” article? I need just her part…

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