Waiting for the Prodigal to Return
Lisa Cooke and Andrew Cooke

But now this is what the LORD says: “Do not weep any longer, for I will reward you,” says the LORD. “Your children will come back to you from the distant land of the enemy. There is hope for your future,” says the LORD. “Your children will come again to their own land.” – Jeremiah 31:16-17 (NLT)

Waiting for the Prodigal to ReturnAndrew: My name is Andrew, the son of Tony and Lisa Cooke. I was as prodigal as prodigal gets in my past, abusing drugs and alcohol, engaging in reckless behavior, and rebelling against anything that had to do with God or church.

If you are a parent, friend, or family member of someone who is rebelling and living a destructive lifestyle, never cease in praying for that person. Without a doubt, the only reason I am still breathing on this earth today is because of divine intervention, caused by prayer, during dangerous scenarios. This intercession kept me alive until I finally responded to God’s love and redemption.

Lisa: So many of us have at least one child who has wandered from the faith they were raised in from their birth. Many of those children were strong in their early devotion, praying beautiful little prayers and living lives that honored God. But somewhere along their journey, they began to let go of beliefs they had followed so earnestly. Our hearts were devastated as we watched them make choices that seem to take them farther and farther away from the life that we as parents had envisioned for them. We would soon come to the conclusion that we have a prodigal child—something we never anticipated.

And why would we anticipate such a thing? We raised those children in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord as best we knew how. We loved our children deeply and sacrificed ourselves for them. Surely this was enough to forestall any backsliding, right? We ask ourselves a million times, “How can this happen?” And the famous parental lament “Where did we go wrong?”

At first we blame our parenting, likely because it was something we feel we could have controlled. There’s nothing harder than to feel like something is out of our control. Accepting the fact that our children have a free will is the first step toward having a healthy perspective on how our child/children could wander away from the Truth. Something my husband and I have often shared with parents is the fact that Adam and Eve were the first prodigals. We would all agree that God is the perfect parent, but even His first “children” disobeyed His directives and did their own thing. Perfect parenting is not the prerequisite for avoiding “Prodigalism.”

Wise parenting, however, is the attainable goal we should all seek. It is reasonable and scriptural to be wise, with many scriptures encouraging us that God will give us the needed wisdom, the most obvious one being James 1:5. Wise parenting realizes not everything is under our control. Wise parenting realizes that we can’t always make things happen the way we want them to. Wise parenting learns to trust the Father’s love for our children in such a way that we are able to believe that “God’s Got This,” even when circumstances and situations indicate otherwise.

I think the hardest thing for a parent to do is to daily watch the decline of our children’s lives as they make wrong decisions, as they suffer the consequences of those decisions. We are so tempted to rescue them from their self-made messes, but is that wisdom? At times mercy is called for, at other times, rescuing only hinders the process. This is where the wisdom of God is so needful, and it is given on an individual basis. What is needed for one child may not be needed for another child. What is needed in one situation may not be required for another situation. Close listening to wisdom from God is the only way to discern what to do in any given situation. But the good news is that God wants to empower our parenting with His wisdom, so we need not fear that He won’t answer our prayers for that wisdom. Believe that you receive from the One who “gives generously to all without reproach” (James 1:5).

Andrew: Make sure you are supporting the person, but not their prodigal lifestyle indirectly through financial support or anything that they can use to continue in their destructive behavior. Like myself, sometimes we must experience the full effects of our decisions and the pain caused by sin (hit rock-bottom) to realize we need to change and turn back to our Savior.

The most important thing to know is that no matter how much you may want them to change, it will never take hold until they are ready and want the change for themselves.  From first hand experience I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that His promise for my life has not returned void even though I went deep into the rabbit hole.

Lisa: Wisdom often calls for patience, and as any parent of a prodigal child knows, your patience is strained to the max! It’s interesting that patience (or steadfastness) is mentioned in the verse before James 1:5 on wisdom. In James 1:4 the Bible says “And let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” As a parent you find yourself needing patience with yourself, with your children, and even, if I may say it, with God.

Typically the restoration of a child back to the ways of the Lord is not a quick work, and therefore, patience becomes an ally in the battle. It requires us to “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which has great recompense of reward. For you have need of patience, that, after you have done the will of God, you might receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:35-36). Faith and patience inherit the promises, and we have many promises in the Bible that we can stand on for our children’s return.

But the greatest anchor of our hope is love. The known love of God toward our children, even when they have wandered from the ways of the Lord, is what holds us steady in turbulent times. Our part as parents is to hold fast what we know about the love of God, what we know from scripture as well as our own experiences. It is our part to imitate that love of God toward our children, even when it appears they reject that love. Kindness leads to repentance (Romans 2:4), and we know that God is kind toward all. In the same way, our kindness, as opposed to rejection or anger, may be the thing that draws our children back into relationship with us as well as God.

Andrew: When I returned to His grace, He was waiting for me with open arms and He is still holding his arms wide open for the person living the prodigal life. No sin will ever fill the God sized void in their life no matter how long they search. Where our sin runs deep, His grace runs deeper.

Lisa: A parent’s longing heart for their wayward, prodigal children is but a faint echo of God’s heart’s longing for those children. The Father yearns for their return on a far greater scale and that love is at work in their lives, drawing them unto Himself. The power of His love for our children works in ways we don’t understand or see. But we can trust in its effectual power at work on their behalf. To trust this love for our children blesses and honors our Father’s heart. This, above all, we must always maintain our faith in the Father’s love.

Andrew: I am currently attending Charis Bible College in Colorado, leading worship at a local church, and have started a music project that will send aid to orphans and those who are in need. This life I’m living today still blows my mind in comparison to my past life not too long ago, and it’s all because of Christ.