How Can We Love a Prodigal? An Excerpt from Letting Go: Rugged Love for Wayward Souls
“There is an impulse embedded so deeply in creation that it even touches God-lovers. It’s a feeling that swims against the stream of our profession of faith, a strain of insanity that pushes us to stray from the One we love. We’re prone to wander.”
So, what does it look like to love someone who strays?
In today's excerpt from Letting Go, Rugged Love for Wayward Souls, pastors Dave Harvey and Paul Gilbert share stories of pain and hope as they reveal how to care for the prodigal.
The world is broken. But you know that already. Just to get out of bed this morning, you had to dodge the debris. It’s why you are here, holding this book, seeking relief from the raining shards of shattered dreams. What kind of dreams? Keep reading, and see if any of these scenes describe your drama.
Jane loved Al, at least the Al she married. But that Al was AWOL and had not appeared in eighteen months. In his place was some kind of teenage twin; a guy who suddenly found the bars and gaming more fascinating than his family. The old Al could be impatient but he listened; he was at least reasonable. This man refused to account for his time or explain why money was disappearing from the bank account.
Jane’s friends had stopped calling. No one knew what to say. Attempts to involve their pastor had failed miserably. Al was going rogue. Jane was going crazy. I’m losing my husband, and I don’t know why. The stabs came again. Was it fear? Anger? The ache of a soul abandoned by God? Jane didn’t know.
It makes no sense, Jane thought as she fought back tears, and I have no idea what to do. How can I possibly reach him if he doesn’t want to be reached?...
“What’s happened to our daughter?” The anguished question came from Meg’s parents, both committed Christians, as they poured out what we’ve come to see as “prodigal pain.”
Meg had always been a social sparkplug at church, igniting life among her friends and occasionally even a small but manageable fire. But Meg’s life ran pretty smoothly down the tracks laid out by diligent parents and the Christian school she attended. But last year, Meg jumped the tracks.
It started with a new group of friends, a variety of reckless and unruly teens united by little more than all they opposed. Meg’s parents were concerned, but they allowed a little rope in response to her lobbying efforts. Then Meg began to change . . . and not for the better.
First came the lies, more unusual for Meg but hardly uncommon in the world of teenagers. She was caught cheating on a test, then was picked up for underage drinking. Meg’s parents put her on lock-down, and that was when Meg the Sparkplug became Meg the Flamethrower…
The chair was empty. Again. It had been five months since Robbie had been to the Bible study. Very few people knew why, but Sean knew. Robbie was not only a kind of spiritual mentor, but also Sean’s best friend. It’s just not supposed to go this way. Sean rolled the thought over again in his mind, stopping at the same conclusion. He just didn’t get it.
But then again, it wasn’t rocket science. The new job came, and Robbie jumped on it. Sean didn’t blame him—more money, more responsibility, travel, and lots of other perks. But somehow it all contaminated Robbie, as if he had swallowed a poison that polluted his soul.
First came the communication slowdown. Robbie, the guy who always answered on the first ring, started fading back. Then“the girl” appeared. Robbie called her eye candy, which always struck Sean as pretty superficial and demeaning—totally out of character for Robbie. But before Sean could even talk to him about it, the uptown parties started claiming Robbie’s Saturday nights.
Now Robbie was gone. Sean’s “best friend” wouldn’t even answer his calls, much less explain his absence. Sean felt the sting of shame. Friendships—real friendships—were not supposed to arc this way.
How can he just cut me out without discussion or explanation? Sean knew there was something more significant, more eternal at stake in Robbie’s recent decisions. Robbie was fleeing his Savior, rejecting the one who had shown him grace and mercy.
Sean prayed to God for help with his anger and began to pour out his questions. “Lord, how can I get through to my best friend? Should I beat down his door? . . . give him space? . . . call a prayer meeting? What does it look like to wisely love one who strays?”
There is an impulse embedded so deeply in creation that it even touches God-lovers. It’s a feeling that swims against the stream of our profession of faith, a strain of insanity that pushes us to stray from the One we love.
We’re prone to wander.
Most of our wandering is, well, pretty routine, even somewhat predictable. We all know that life in this world is not Eden. The world is fallen, broken, and cursed. We live considerably east of the Garden, where fouler winds blow and storm damage is everywhere. We live in a land where marriage is hard, relationships rupture, and saints suffer. A life where we often want more than we have. We envy, or lust, or get angry when things don’t go our way. We’re not yet what we will be. Life can get messy, and relationships can be painful. But our trials and transgressions seem common to others.
Sometimes people who claim to walk with God, who belongto his church through conversion or upbringing, do despicable things. They make decisions that are contrary to all they have learned. They do the opposite of what they have promised. They make decisions that decimate marriages, betray families, and separate friends. They reject the roles they once appeared to cherish.
Just like King David.
David had an empire, a harem, a loyal army, and God on his side. But he went dark and sought to bed down Bathsheba, the wife of another man. Since her husband was an obstacle, David arranged to have him killed. He called a gangster hit on an honest soldier to indulge his greedy lust and hide his sin.
He eventually repented. A prophet loved him enough to speak truth. By God’s grace, David responded and then cried out to God for forgiveness. God did forgive him. But David’s sinful decisions still caused great pain. A man was dead. A marriage ruined. Trust was broken. David’s choices created kingdom-wide consequences that would spill over on generations to come.
That’s where we want to begin, with these bleeding gashes from the hit-and-run you never saw coming; with the relational complexity and daily uncertainty that you feel at this very moment. You don’t understand the present, and you don’t know the future. All you have are questions.
If you’re still reading, you know the questions:
Why is this happening?
What have I done to create this mess?
Why do I feel so ashamed?
What does love look like right now?
If this person is sucking all the life out of me, why do I feel guilty?
These are really good questions, and this book will try to answer them in light of God’s truth. But we also want to change the questions so that you experience the grace that comes from gospel answers.
With these thoughts in mind, let’s get started…
Find answers to your difficult questions.
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