When Your Prodigal Comes Home

This is a pretty big weekend for my family. My oldest daughter Anna is graduating from college tomorrow, so I expect to cry a lot.

The road that leads to this weekend has been arduous to say the least—and expensive! And while I rejoice that Anna is graduating, my deepest joy comes from knowing who she has become.

You see, Anna was a hellion to raise. Seemingly from the moment she was born, she chose to live according to her rules.

Anna’s first three years in grade school, her teachers called my wife and me about two weeks after classes started and asked to meet with us. They all shared a common refrain: “In all my years of teaching, I have never been treated as disrespectfully by any student as your daughter.” Ouch! I’m sure this provided great fodder for gossip and speculation in the teachers’ lounge when they discovered that Anna’s dad was a pastor.

In eighth grade, we decided to throw a birthday party for her at our house. [Note to parents: if you want to discover what your children are really like, throw them a birthday party. But be warned: You may not like what you see.] Some of the kids who walked through the front door looked vaguely familiar…from my worst nightmares. Many never graduated from high school because they were either pregnant or strung out on drugs.

High school was no easier. She had a few minor scrapes with the law and kept Kelley and me up late many nights. It’s not an exaggeration to say that she was probably grounded for half of her high school experience.

While Anna’s academics were okay, my greater concern was her heart. As a child, I prayed with her every night, “Jesus, I pray that Anna will love you more and more every day.” I believed that if my kids loved and sincerely followed Jesus, the behavioral issues would take care of themselves. (Go ahead—call me naïve)

Once, while driving to church, she told me, “Dad, I’ve decided to become a Buddhist.”

Now, I have nothing against Buddhists, but she had never mentioned the word “Buddhist” before.

“Oh really?” I answered. “Spell ‘Buddhist.’”

That pretty much ended the discussion. She was just trying to rattle me because I was going to be preaching that night.

I won’t delve into her varied indiscretions, but to be brutally honest, Kelley and I were seriously concerned about her wild streak. We didn’t want to control her, but we did want to parent her in a way that she would make good choices. She seemed hell-bent on the road to destruction that resembled the path many of her eighth grade friends had chosen.

One time, in the midst of my frustration, I said to Kelley, “I don’t know what to do with her.”

“Mike,” she said. “We’ve planted seeds in her life. We just need to trust that God will produce fruit from them. She’ll be okay.”

“You’re a lot more confident about those seeds than I am,” I snapped back.

By a sovereign act of God, Anna was accepted into a high academic Christian college with a hefty scholarship. While intelligent, her grades weren’t the reason for being accepted and given that scholarship. She is a gifted violist, and college orchestras compete to recruit them.

Before she left for school, Kelley and I met with her for an important discussion.

“Anna,” I explained. “You’re going out of state to school. I just want you to know that if you make some unwise choices that get you in trouble with the law, you won’t have daddy to bail you out.”

“I know,” she said.

Within a month after classes started, she almost got kicked out of school for breaking their honor code. She also had another scrape with the law—and didn’t have daddy to bail her out (literally!).

But not having parents bail her out was probably a good thing, because it became a turning point in her life.

This weekend, four years later, Anna is graduating. She’s going to remain in her college town because she’s found a church that she absolutely loves. She’s maintained that independent, self-confident streak, but she has grown into fun-loving, godly woman.

The lesson in all of this: prodigals can come home. In the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15, the son had to come to the end of himself before he “came to his senses.”

Some kids are compliant and their parents take the credit for the product. I have one of those. Other kids are noncompliant–and they cause their parents a bit of stress and sometimes shame. I have two of those.

My responsibility in all of this? Planting seeds. I can’t change them–only God can. The apostle Paul made an interesting observation in 1 Corinthians 3:7, “Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”

We plant the seeds of the gospel and water them with prayer. And then let God do his thing.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. He began a weekly study on 2 Peter last week and will return to it next week. 


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19 responses to “When Your Prodigal Comes Home

  1. Georgie-ann

    Big Congratulations to your family!,… God Bless & Enjoy!

    • Thank you Georgie-ann. This is a weekend worth celebrating.

      • Georgie-ann

        Amen,… and ultimately our children belong to God,…

      • Georgie-ann

        Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome.”

        I can only imagine the deep and heart-wrenching prayers that have gone forth up to the throne,… This is a great example of what I will oftentimes refer to as “spiritual warfare,” which is sometimes hard to describe to those who haven’t had to firmly and consistently “wrestle” (and endure and suffer long) for their life’s personal and hard-won and heart-felt victories,…

        God is Good, but we sometimes have to hold on to Him “for dear life,”… (and for a long time!),… In truth, I credit the “behind the scenes” prayers and unseen struggles of those who deeply “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (and peace) in the face of strongly opposing winds, for the “good results” that ultimately shine through,… Great spiritual victories emerge from great spiritual battles, but we must always “hold our ground.”

        Matthew 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.”

        Spiritual isometrics!,… and they teach us a lot!,… although I’m trying to enter at least a “semi-retirement” — (well-earned, if I DO say so myself!) — from mine,… looking forward to “a new phase” and perhaps some “blessed rest & rewards!”,… Time will tell, but things do seem to be “looking up” in these ways,… more smiles and more sanity becoming evident in the emerging familial generations, as well as repaired apparent rifts that had accrued along the way!,… So, after many and long struggles, one might begin again to feel: “it doesn’t get better than this!”,… we can begin to “rest from our labors”,… knowing that all may simply become “normal” (in a good way!) again,… and God be praised! (-:

        Revelation 14:13 “Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.” ”

        Sometimes it pains me to think of our poor little children, being forced to cope with our world and the uber-crazy culture, as it will be presenting to them now,… They are all faced with so many challenges,… For this reason, perhaps God is gifting us with especially “strong souls,” who will have already been “tried in the fire,” and who will be able to help steer this ship in vital spiritual ways, through the various currents that have been unleashed upon us,…

        Congratulations and Best Wishes to Anna and her generation! May you “command the future” in all the best ways possible!

        And, “To God Be the Glory!’ Amen.

  2. Elna

    If…God is all-loving
    If…God is all-knowing
    where would be the most loving place for a person with a difficult road to walk?
    In close proximity to a loving Christian people…
    There are always remarks about the pastors children, and the wayward children of christians… but I believe we look at the problem from the wrong angle :))
    I have yet to find a reborn christian that didn’t have a little old lady, somewhere, praying for them.

  3. carri

    Very touching post Mike! Thanks again for always keeping it real and not painting over the difficulities we all face as christians. Big congratulations to Anna and so happy that you & your family are celebrating such a huge milestone in her life! But most of all, the joy & beauty of seeing those seeds manifest into yet another one of God’s incredible life giving gifts He loves to bless us with, Amen!!!!

  4. She’s had awesome parents. The kids that don’t “blossom” as Anna did have parents who are more concerned with their own reputations than anything else, so they out a lot of pressure and shame on their offspring. You and Kelley did a great job here. Anna is wonderful and so are your other two. 🙂

  5. Cathy Cunningham

    Congratulations to all of you Mike! What a great testimony to the rewards, relinquishments and heartaches we deal with in raising our blessings up to be Godly men and women. Big high five to you and all praise and glory to the One Who gives us the Grace to be parents.

  6. Thanks for sharing so personally about your struggles raising a noncompliant child! Yesterday Craig and I watched an overly protective grandmother trying to prevent her 3 year old grandson from falling and hurting himself by not allowing him to do anything active at all. We talked about how weird it would be for a kid to grow up and never have skinned his knees. Those hurts and scrapes are part of what makes us who we are. Even though as a parent it is agony to watch your kids make bad decisions that you know will lead to pain. Ours graduate from college next weekend and we are very proud of them also. They have come so far in four years.

  7. Music scholarship, eh? Orchestra. You’ve given me a great idea! Beautiful story. Congratulations, Mike.

  8. Linda

    Wow. This was so heartfelt and true. I beat myself up all too often for nor “praying enough” for my children. I rejoice with you about Anna; I pray my kids (now 23 and 24) have a similar wake up. I pray the seeds take. But I often despair.

  9. Thanks Linda. I wish I could offer a formula, but I doubt one exists. Many times I prayed, “God, you’re going to have to do something because everything I’m trying doesn’t work.” Don’t give up.

  10. Georgie-ann

    A little “hat tip” to the blessings of the “whole Body of Christ” being and working together as a kind and generous and concerned extended family,… and how our good will, and mutually supportive inter-connectedness, positively influences the outcomes of our universally shared natural life circumstances,… Where would we be without each other?,… and the good examples, positive reinforcement, love and faithful encouragement?,… God doesn’t mean for us to “bear these burdens” alone, or to be solely responsible for the outcomes,… And so, we boast, not only in the love and faithfulness of our Lord,… but also with gratitude and great appreciation for the help we give/are to each other,…

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