Spiritual Life

Jesus’ parable offers hope for the parents of prodigals

Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord.

– Psalm 25:7

One thing that makes Jesus such an effective teacher is His use of common things to illustrate His points, for example, the famous Parable of the Prodigal Son.

I believe many parents can sympathize with this story. Perhaps you were a prodigal once. Perhaps you are the father or mother of one and can feel the heartbreak of the son’s father in Jesus’ story.

Regardless of which category you fit into, remember that God is faithful and He is at work in the lives of His children – even the wayward ones.

I have served in youth ministry for more than 20 years. I have seen firsthand many cases of young people with a vibrant faith – very involved in church, many from devout families – who seem to walk away from their Christian faith particularly as they enter young adulthood. (I’ve seen many return, too.)

This sort of pattern happens for many reasons. One is that a young person has a vicarious faith. He or she identifies with a strong, positive Christian such as a youth pastor, an older Christian mentor or even parents. Yet when the young Christian moves into adulthood, the challenges of life leave such a vicarious faith wanting. This burgeoning adult must now work out faith in an adult world. The faith of his or her “Christian superhero” doesn’t work now. The maturing seeker must work it out alone. This may involve protracted times of doubt, wrong choices, skipping church, etc.

The transition from youth to adult involves a radical change in a person’s social structure and support. Think about it. For the first 17 years, life is pretty much standardized: school, homework, church, soccer practice (pick your extracurricular activities), etc. This structure is shared with thousands of other friends, peers, classmates and acquaintances, all close in age, all on similar daily, weekly and yearly schedules.

Then, the new graduate is on an individual path, in a world of young and old taking on new responsibilities – college, work, trade school, etc. This can mean a big change at church, too, as the graduate moves on from his youth group and transitions into life as an adult – often with fewer Christian peers.

For some youth steeped in a Christian upbringing, there may also be an exotic appeal to worldly things. Combined with the newfound independence of adulthood, they may rebel and choose to involve themselves in some unchristian relationships and activities.

In short, it’s a huge transition from youth to adulthood, fraught with many choices. Amid the insecurities of this new life, they may make some mistakes or outright rebel (as did even King David – see the aforementioned Psalm). Often it is not until they have lived on the other side of the street for a while that they appreciate how green the grass really is at Jesus’ feet.

It ain’t over until God says it’s over

I remember an account given by a pastor about a devout couple blessed with several children.

They did all they could to raise them properly. They taught them the faith and attended church regularly. They exemplified the Christian life for their children.

However, as they entered into young adulthood, each child (five of them) outright walked away from his or her faith.

It wasn’t until their late 20s that these wayward young adults each returned to their faith, except for one. He continued to live as an unbeliever for decades.

Then one day, in his 60s, while he was driving his car, he caught sight of himself in the rearview mirror. That’s when it hit him: “What a waste my life has been,” he realized. That was the defining moment for him. He repented and returned to the Lord.

As disappointing as it may be to see a kid once on fire for God later walk away, I don’t lose hope. That’s because their lives are in God’s hands, not mine. I may not see him or her around the church, but he or she is not off God’s radar screen. He’s still Lord of the backslidden.

So continue to pray for your prodigals – as if you need to be reminded – for God is deeply interested in their lives, too.

Patrick Grover is Youth and Children’s Ministry coordinator at Union Presbyterian Church of Los Altos, 858 University Ave. For more information,call 948-4361 or visit unionpc.org.

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