Loving a Prodigal: Boundaries with Love and Grace

Once a month I write a letter to the wonderful Prayer for Prodigals community I am part of.  Often those letters, though specific to those who love a prodigal, apply to any or all of us in the challenging circumstances of life. This post considers setting boundaries and consequences with love and grace.

Dear Lover of Prodigals,

If you have been a part of this amazing Prayer for Prodigals community for very long, you know it is a place of much grace. We focus on loving, accepting and praying our prodigals back. The father in Luke 15 and our heavenly Father are our models.

Yesterday I received an email from a friend whose prodigal son had abused her gracious and loving efforts to help him make better choices, show respect, become responsible, surrender to our God. “What do we do?” this mother asked.Perhaps what I wrote to her will be helpful to you.

A letter to my friend

Dear Anna (not her real name),

I am sorry for the continuing conflict and disrespect.

Yes, it's time for boundaries, expectations and consequences. Defined clearly with timeline.

I would suggest coming up with a list of minimum requirements. Minimum doesn't necessarily mean few, but the minimum efforts at respect and contribution. Rent and chores (contributions to the home/family) for sure. Specific expectations. (Ours with our son also included no drugs, alcohol or sex in our home.)

Perhaps a month timeline. He will not do it perfectly, but must make honest effort and move toward consistently doing his part. If he has made good progress (with decent attitude), you might give him another month, with probably higher requirements or at least real consistency.  Present it in a conversation full of love and grace, but reminding him that 1. he must be a contributing part of the family to live at home and 2. he must move toward learning to be a responsible adult. You have been glad to help him in this time of transition from college to adulthood, but it is time for him to become that responsible adult. That can happen while he continues to live at your home for awhile if he can do so as a contributing family member and demonstrating increasing personal responsibility and ownership of his life.

Then, if he does not agree, it is his choice to move out, not your choice to kick him out. Or if over the month or two you give for him to make significant progress, and if he does not, it is his choice, not your choice.

If he leaves, immediately or after failure to progress as a contributing family member, you must assure him of your love and acceptance and great desire for continued family relationship. He is welcome to come over. He is desired at family and holiday events.

But be prepared to not hear from him for awhile. And when you do it may be to ask for money. Sometimes you may choose to give him something for a true, specific need, but not on a regular basis. Your prodigal is a capable person. You can rightfully make reasonable requirements of him. If he/she has some realities that affect ability to make good choices, you will need to adjust requirements and expectations.

I hope these thoughts are helpful. I think grace is paramount, but it is not grace to let him remain irresponsible and dependent. It is grace to help him move toward becoming a responsible person, but always with assurance of your love and desire for relationship.

I am praying for you, my friend.

Boundaries with love and grace

And I am praying for all of us who love a prodigal, that God will give us His grace and wisdom as we seek to woo these wanderers back to our Lord and to us.

With grace and love,

JudyWhat about you? What has worked for you in setting boundaries with love and grace.

C2017 Judy Douglass

If you would be interested in requesting prayer for a prodigal loved one, or being a part of our wonderful praying community, respond in comments or write to me at PrayerforProdigals at gmaildotcom.