Loving a Prodigal: What Real Love Looks Like

This is the seventh post in a weekly series of mini-devotionals on LOVE, which is the theme of the 2014 June 2 Worldwide Day of Prayer for Prodigals. This letter goes to the members of the Prayer for Prodigals community, but it is true for all of us.


Dear Lover of Prodigals,

It’s amazing how many times the “love” and “hate” words get thrown around when there is a prodigal around.Most of us have heard the “I hate you” more than once.  And though it stings, we know it is said in the frustration of an angry moment as the most painful thing to inflict on us.

But I wonder if,  in response to “I love you” from us, this retort isn’t far more hurtful: “You don’t really love me.”

This can be just a barb, but it can also cause us pause.  “Why would he say that?  Surely she knows I love her.  Everything I do is out of my deep love.”

Both Paul and John exhort us to really love:Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. (Rom 12:9, NLT)

Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. (1 John 3:18, NLT)

So the obvious question is, what does real love look like?  How to show this truth by our actions?

Five (of many more) quick thoughts on how we “really love them”:

Love Speaks Truth

Often the first expression of love we jump to is “tough love.”  After all, we have a responsibility to provide correction and discipline to help them turn from their wicked ways.  We must speak truth to them, explaining what is right and helping them understand choices have consequences.

Scripture affirms that this is following God’s example: For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child. (Hebrews 12:6)

Real love will let them experience natural consequences, or add some consequences appropriate to the choices made and the nature of our relationship with this prodigal.

But tough love is not always God’s approach, nor should it always be ours.

Love Gives Mercy 

Several weeks ago we were reminded not to “keep a record of wrongs suffered.”  Any list we had needed to be forgiven.  But of course our prodigals keep on sinning (as do we).  So often, maybe daily, there are new offenses that need to not be put on a list, but forgiven.

Peter tells us this wonderful truth: Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4;”8)

So many times I have thanked God that His love has covered my “multitude” of sins.  Can I do no less than forgive my loved one?

Love Extends Grace

Even as God has repeatedly forgiven my many sins, He has also given me grace over and over.  Sometimes it is grace instead of the consequences I deserve, or favor with someone who could help or hurt me,  or maybe even the strength or courage or power to do something I’m not prepared to do.

I’ve written this before, I have lived by it, and God keeps reaffirming His desire for me to extend grace to my prodigal:  When you make mistakes with this boy—and I made many—err on the side of grace.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  (2 Corinthians 9:8)

If God can extend that much grace to us, He can enable us to do the same toward our prodigals.

Love Bestows Blessing

Over the years, my loved prodigal has done many things that made me want to return in kind, to say “see you later,” to give up, to speak a curse. Every time God reminds me of His instruction through Peter:

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:9)

So I have practiced speaking blessing to him, doing something kind for him, reading a blessing I have written for him.  It has transformed my attitude over and over, and it has convinced him that my love for him is real.

Love Confers Honor

Sometimes I can start thinking I’m better than my prodigal.  After all, I haven’t done what he has.  I walk with God fairly consistently.  I keep loving him no matter whatGod is pretty quick to remind me of His Word in Philippians 2:3-4: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Can we do that?  Can we put aside our “better living” and not think more highly of ourselves than we do our prodigals?

Can we live out this instruction in Romans 12:10: Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

As always, when we understand the impossibility of truly loving—anyone, including our prodigals—the way Christ loved, we must come on our knees and say, “Yes, Lord, I need you.  Please fill me with Your Holy Spirit.  Give me Your supernatural power to love as You have loved me.”

In His Love,


What about you?  Is your love real?

c2014 Judy Douglass

If you would like more information, to request prayer for a prodigal, or to join our full-of-grace community, please write to prayerforprodigalsatgmaildotcom with your questions or names, or for an invitation.