Banishing Fear When You Love a Prodigal
When you awoke this morning, did you feel pretty good for a few seconds until you remembered?
That call from the police yesterday. The school administrator the month before that. The parents of your kid’s friend the month before that.
Or are you waiting for the call that never comes? Your heart startling every time your phone beeps, your hands snatching it up, your eyes hoping it will be him. Her. Someone, anyone who can tell you where the child is whose reckless abandonment has led them down a prodigal path you cannot follow.
Life here in Norway is not all mountains and fjords, blue skies and photo opportunities. There are parents here too who are grieving over rivers of estrangement that separate those who’ve left the nest from those who love them best. These are the stories we hear, the photos we’ll never post. So Mike and I are always grateful to know of others willing to share their stories of loving a prodigal, like my friend Judy Douglass.
As Judy comments: “Loving a prodigal isn’t easy, whether it’s your own child, a sibling, a grandchild, a niece or nephew, a friend, a spouse, or even a parent. When someone you love veers off a safe path and makes destructive life decisions, you grow concerned. You seek to encourage better choices, point out the risks and dangers, and coax them back from harm’s way.
"And when those prodigal choices continue over years, you— the one who loves this prodigal—can grow desperate, thinking that nothing makes a difference. Fear escalates. Faith dwindles. Hope wanes. What can you do?”
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. 1 John 4:18
I’ve asked Judy to share her view from the ridge today – the long view of God’s love and faithfulness even as families walk through lengthening shadows of fear for their children and their choices.
“The fear can be overwhelming, can’t it?
Pregnancy. Addiction. Overdose.
Wrong friends. Cutting. Suicide.
Her wasting away because she won’t eat.
The call from the jail or the hospital. An accident— injuring self or others.
His doing something crazy while high. A visit from the police.
Harm to your other children. Living without God.
Your not knowing where they are or what they are doing.
Failing school. Having no future. Fear for your own life.
That’s quite a list. All are quite possible, whether your prodigal is your teen or adult child, a spouse, a sibling, a parent, or a friend. Fear can be pervasive when you love a prodigal.
I know it has been for me. Friday nights were always the worst in the darkest days of his prodigalness, because he and his friends felt it was their right to have a wild Friday night.
And even today, when he is seeking to make good choices, to choose a better life, the fear lingers and lurks: Will the past return to haunt him? Will one more hard life event trip him up again? So how do we not live in fear? We live in love— God’s love for us and for our prodigals.
Perfect love casts out fear. And only our Lord has perfect love. He is perfect love.
There are other things we know are true: He is God— sovereign, almighty, omnipotent, the Most High God. He is good— He does all things well, and He is always looking for ways to do good to us. He invites us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).
Yes, He is love. He doesn’t just love. He is love. And all the realities of His love— for you and me, and for our loved ones, that we have explored so far— apply here.
But bad things still happen. Wrong choices lead to painful consequences—some of which last a lifetime: People are hurt physically and emotionally, are imprisoned, have an unexpected child. Die.
So where is God’s love in all those things?
We have no way of knowing all the unseen ways in which God— because of His great love— has intervened, protected, rescued. We don’t know what we don’t know.
But we do know that He allows us—and our prodigals—to make choices, to follow our own paths, to pursue our own desires. And sometimes those choices, paths, and desires have extreme consequences.
When I can’t understand what is happening, when it seems there is no good in sight, when I feel that surely someone did snatch my loved one from God’s hands, I can’t rely on what I see or what it seems God is doing or allowing.
So I must go back to who He is: He is God. He is good. He is love. I must lean into that love, believe that His love can bring good from the worst situation and that He is able to rescue and redeem the most degenerate.
That love will cover me with grace and flood me with peace. And that love can banish my fears. And yours!"
Excerpt from When You Love a Prodigal: 90 Days of Grace for the Wilderness by Judy Douglass, Bethany House copyright 2019. Used by Permission.