Gifts of the Prodigal: Releasing My Guilt & Embracing Prayer
Trembling with anger and shock, I stomped down the snow-packed path. I stormed past the skating rink where my kids glided across the ice that dark December evening. I could hardly process what I’d just found in my son’s backpack.
How could he? Why would he? What did I do wrong? I’m a terrible mother!
These thoughts worsened, in fact they amplified when I got home and searched my teenager’s room.
I can’t believe he’d do something like this! How could this happen to the child I used to be so close to?! A child who had professed his faith and obeyed the call of baptism only a couple of years earlier. How had I missed what was going on under my own nose? What’s wrong with me? Where did I go wrong?
Do you know what it’s like to have a prodigal?
Have you also been devastated, absolutely crushed, by the choices of your once sweet, innocent child? Have you ever blamed yourself when your child has made decisions you don’t agree with, choices that go against the beliefs and values you worked so hard to instill in them?
Have you ever felt like a complete failure as a mom?
Bear with me as I once again travel back to the first few months after I discovered the evidence of my sweet child’s poor choices. If I’d had my way, I would have locked my kid in his room and thrown away the key. But that wasn’t a realistic option.
So I punished him.
I took away all the privileges I could think of.
I threatened him.
When that didn’t work, I pleaded with him.
I tried to educate him on the side effects of his choices.
I tried everything in my power to get him to change.
My mind was consumed with figuring out what to do with my son. My relationships with my other children suffered. Aspects of my health began to deteriorate.
Many mornings during my daily walk, I’d cry out to God.
Why, God, why did this happen? What do I do, God? Just tell me how I should punish him so he gets the message that this kind of behaviour isn’t acceptable!
Usually I didn’t get an answer. But sometimes, God would answer me back in His gentle, loving way.
When I asked, Why can’t he see that he’s messing up his life? God would remind me that I made poor choices too. In fact, I am far more like a prodigal and much less like the perfect, loving parent God is.
When I wondered, Why won’t he listen to me?! I’m his parent! God would nudge me gently and I sensed Him say, “I know what you mean.” I was reminded that I too frequently ignore my heavenly Father’s requests.
When I finally asked God, What do you want from me?! I sensed God’s pleasure. But then…nothing.
When I bargained with God, telling Him I’d do anything just to receive His guidance, He made me wait even longer.
In fact, God seemed quiet for a very long time.
After a while, I got angry. I said, See God, this is why prayer doesn’t work! YOU DON’T DO ANYTHING!
Bold, I know. Have you ever had these kinds of thoughts? Personally, I don’t recommend saying this to God. Because right around that time, another area of my life began to crumble apart and there was nothing, absolutely nothing, I could do about it. I don’t know if God was humbling me or what He was trying to do in my life, but it downright sucked.
It felt like all I could do was pray. I prayed for my son. I prayed for the other issue. I waited and God didn’t do anything about either situation but slowly,…
…I began to change.
I saw how I had been thinking of God as a vending machine. Prayer goes in, answer comes out. Repeat as necessary until my life was exactly how I wanted it to be.
Ugh. I was disgusted with myself. If this is how I viewed prayer, I knew I needed to change. My struggle had started when my mom died even though I had prayed passionately for healing over the course of her eight month battle with cancer. God hadn’t given me what I wanted so I had given up on prayer. I’d given up on God.
I realized how pathetic and immature my faith was.
I saw that I needed to pray for the right reasons – not so that God would answer my prayers exactly how I wanted Him to – but so that I could draw near to Him and learn to trust His plan completely for both my life and my prodigal’s life.
As sad as I was that my child didn’t choose better, I began to see that my reaction to his behaviour was a mirror showing me that I had some major issues to deal with. I’m now brave enough to admit that and I’m giving you the chance to learn from my misery.
I didn’t see it for many months, but my prodigal child’s behaviour was a gift from God to show me that I couldn’t do it all on my own and I never could. Here I was practically losing my sanity trying to solve my child’s problems and feeling guilty because I thought I wasn’t a good enough mom. I thought that it was my fault my child had turned out like he had.
But that was all wrong thinking. Just like God had given me free will to do as I pleased, I had to allow my once-responsible teenager to make choices that I didn’t agree with, choices that made me want to punch him in the face! I had done the best I could as a mom and it was time to trust my child’s future to God. It wasn’t up to me to solve my prodigal’s problems.
As I spent more time in prayer, my desires changed from craving answers and solutions to craving God for who He is. Whenever I found myself worrying about my child – or any of the other problems in my life that I couldn’t fix – I started to give it all to God, along with my self-defeating thoughts.
As I began to recognize the lies I was tangled in, I realized that I was fighting a war. A war that would not be over anytime soon.
This war was not with my son. It was not with God. This war began in my mind and in the spiritual parts of me. It was a war against the lies in my mind and against the spiritual enemy who attacks me as a mom, he attacks my son’s future, and he attacks our relationship.
What – or rather, Who – I needed to win that war was God. Only God.
Not my son’s good behaviour or a life without problems.
“But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” ~ 2 Corinthians 1:9b
I needed to arm up with God’s strength and power and fight the invisible war that was threatening to pull me and my family apart.
The first gift my prodigal gave me was to realize God didn’t need me to save my son.
I made a huge mistake in thinking that my child’s poor choices were all my fault. And I made it worse by blaming myself and trying to fix it – fix him – on my own. I couldn’t do that. I needed to separate my feelings of worth from my child’s behaviour. My teenager’s actions were not about me or my abilities as a mother. He had made his own choices and he was now responsible for his actions.
The second gift my prodigal gave me was to learn to pray and seek God for Who He is rather than for what I want Him to do for me.
The truth is that God was working and He’s still working in my life and my prodigal’s life. Right now, I honestly can’t see how He’s working but I trust that, as I pray, God will continue to work things together to glorify Him both in the end and in the present.
The third gift my prodigal gave me is coming soon in part 2.