Learned on a Prodigal Journey

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. 

Return of the Prodigal by Rembrandt

Return of the Prodigal by Rembrandt


Dear Lover of Prodigals,

I have to confess, I’m grateful, after almost 20 years in a prodigal wilderness, that our loved one is in such a better place. Making good choices, working hard, being responsible. Seeking to follow Jesus.

Of course, things are not perfect, nor is our son. We know old patterns, addictions, the evil one all lurk, looking for an opportunity. We stay on our knees.I am beginning, with a little distance now, to look back and see what God has done in my life, in our family, through our trials, and in our son with some perspective. I have gained appreciation for ways we made the journey well, and I see now some of our mistakes and approaches that could have been better. Here are a few reflections.

Some things we mostly did well:

  1. We gave him many opportunities to explore his interests: soccer, surfing, fishing, paintball, bowling, photography.

  2. We allowed him to have several pets: dogs, cats, iguanas, mice, even snakes (shudder).

  3. We did some fun family travels, primarily to Texas and Colorado.

  4. We introduced him to men who invested in his life, spent time with him, prayed for him.

  5. We also introduced him to friends from great families, some of whom became his closest buddies.

  6. We took him to church and youth group, prayed with him every night, provided spiritually enriching opportunities.

  7. When he made increasingly destructive choices and seemed out of control and unwilling for us to help him, we reluctantly put him in a residential program, which was a challenging but valuable time.

The most important things we mostly did well:

  1. We kept loving him unconditionally. Because of abandonment issues with his birth family, he didn’t believe we really loved him. We never quit.

  2. We chose to give thanks to God no matter what he did or what we needed to do in response, and that enabled us to grow in our trust in God.

  3. We had appropriate boundaries for him and for us, with corresponding consequences, which we usually lived by.

  4. We extended grace and mercy over and over.

  5. We prayed. And prayed. And prayed some more.

We made plenty of mistakes:

  1. Because we didn’t comprehend the damage done to him in utero by his birth mother, we didn’t know how to respond to some of his special needs. We slowly learned his realities and sought to adjust.

  2. We spent a lot of money on him. Some was necessary, but probably we met more desires than we had to.

  3. Because his needs and his choices required a lot of attention, I focused so much on care for him that I too often neglected my other children. I deeply regret that I didn’t handle this better.

  4. My husband and I did not always agree on the best approach with him, so sometimes we let him create tension between us.

But oh the gift he has been!

  1. I learned about mercy, grace and unconditional love at a far deeper level than I had ever experienced before.

  2. I learned how to pray—really pray.

  3. I was thrown into the arms of the Lord and discovered a wonderful dependence on Him beyond anything I had ever known.

  4. Despite all the conflict, pain, disappointment, fear, heartache, I still have a treasured relationship with our son.

These few thoughts are certainly not comprehensive, and I’m only recently able to breathe freely enough concerning our son that I can step back and reflect.

I hope these thoughts will be helpful and instructive and encouraging to you.

Never give up,


What about you? What have you learned in a wilderness journey?

c2015 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.