Prodigals and Those Who Love Them by Ruth Bell Graham“I have, as wife and mother, a good cause – the best cause in the world – but lack the shoulders to support it. The job isn’t too big for me. I’m not big enough for the job.” (Thankfully, God IS big enough!) “We mothers must take care of the possible and trust God for the impossible…We cannot convict of sin, create hunger and thirst after God, or convert. These are miracles, and miracles are not in our department.”
A year ago at our church ladies’ retreat, the speaker mentioned a book title that caught my attention: Prodigals and Those Who Love Them by Ruth Bell Graham, wife of the famous evangelist, Billy Graham. In her book, Mrs. Graham writes from the heart of a mom who knows what it is like to have a child stray from home, and our speaker shared how the book had been an encouragement to her as she experienced something similar with her son. At this time, my three children are young adults (ages 19-23) and thankfully they are all professing Christians. But I have more than one close family member whose spiritual condition I am particularly concerned about, so I set about getting my hands on a copy of Mrs. Graham’s book. It wasn’t what I expected: I was hoping for instructions on how to correct the situation (anyone who knows me, knows I’m a “fixer”), but it turned out to be better than that. (Isn’t it amazing how God always seems to know what we need better than we do!)
Of course most of us are familiar with Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (see Luke 15), in which the younger of two brothers demands his father for his inheritance, then goes away from home and wastes it all in selfish, debauched living. Because of our familiarity with the New Testament story, when we hear the word “prodigal” we often think of a loved one, usually a child, who has left home and family under unhappy circumstances, or one who has in some way strayed. In her book, Mrs. Graham shares true stories about prodigals, including St. Augustine and the hymn writer John Newton. Interspersed between the stories are poems and memorable quotes that express the heartfelt concerns and prayers of those who have a loved one who is lost. This poem by Mrs. Graham is a reminder that there is more than one way in which a parent may mourn for a child:
Be tender with, O Lord, we pray
the one whose child lies dead today.
Be tenderer, Lord, we plead
for those with runaways
for whom moms bleed.
But tenderest of all with each
whose child no longer cares,
is out of reach.
Of course every Christian parent’s greatest desire is to see their children walking with the Lord, and their greatest grief is to see a child turn their back on all that they have tried to provide and teach them. Mrs. Graham says that the term prodigal “suggests wastefulness, a squandering of life, time, abilities, talents.” As a mother, it is very painful to pour my love, time, energy, and resources into the lives and well-being of my children, and then see them waste what I have invested in them. Am I a perfect mom? Of course not. Perhaps I couldn’t give my children everything I wish I could have, and I definitely made mistakes and have some regrets. Graham shares these words from Colleen Evans’ book Start Loving: The miracle of forgiving:
Our failures. That’s the hardest area, especially when they have affected the lives of our loved ones. As our children step out into the adult world…it hurts to see areas of need and struggle that stem in part from ways we have failed them…[but] even these areas are part of the ‘all things’ which God will use to make a man and a woman who will accomplish His unique purposes. So when thoughts of my failures push their way into my consciousness, I let His total forgiveness dissolve my regrets, and go on to praise Him who accepts us just as we are and lovingly works to make us more than we are.
As I carry out my role as a mom, I need to be sure I am doing it first for the Lord, in obedience and honor to Him, not for what I expect to get in return. Mrs. Graham quotes Samuel Rutherford, “Duties are ours, events are God’s. When our faith goes to meddle with events, and to hold account upon God’s Providence…we lose ground.” I must believe that God is sovereign in the life of my child, and that He has her on the path He has marked out for her and is working His will in her.
In one poem, Mrs. Graham offers a prayer, “For all who knew the shelter of The Fold, its warmth and safety and The Shepherd’s care, and bolted…” She goes on to pray that, “wherever, however far away they roam” that the Lord will allow these wandering ones to experience cold, ill, terror, whatever discomforts and losses He deems necessary, and that He “follow and watch and keep Your stupid, wayward, stubborn sheep and someday bring them Home!” This once again is a reminder that God is working His purpose out in the life of each individual, wherever he or she is, and that as parents, there are times when all we can do is pray for them, leave them in God’s hands, and trust Him to bring them back in His way and time.
If you are a parent whose child appears to be on a path that is leading him away from God or who is living in blatant sin and rebellion against God, keep praying and never give up hope that God may one day bring the lost one back to Him and to you.
commit each to
your loving care:
then carry them away again
nor leave them there;
Who lived to die
(and rose again!)
care more than I.
So back I come
with my heart’s load,
my lack of faith
in You alone,
all I cannot understand
each hidden wound,
each one who played a part
in making those
we bring to You
the ones they are
(and dearer each to You
than us, by far),
now I give them
to your loving care,
with thankful heart,
— and leave them there.
Are you praying diligently while waiting for a loved one to “come home”?
- The Story of the Prodigal Son (www.biblegateway.com)
- Ruth Graham: A Life Well Lived (https://billygraham.org)
- Let Them Come Home: John and Abraham Piper (www.firstboynton.com)
- World Wide Day of Prayer for Prodigals (movementseverywhere.com)
- Loving a Prodigal: In Its Time (judydouglass.com)
- Why Mother’s Day is for the Birds (www.aholyexperience.com)