t is the million dollar question, how do I love and deal with a prodigal child or family member and really help them but not enable them?

Unconditional-How can I love and deal with children and siblings that have decided to “go prodigal?” If they are wayward and living a life not pleasing to God…how can I help them in a way that honors God?

One of the most heartbreaking things that can happen for any parent is the moment they watch their child make bonehead decisions. They have no clue why the child they raised as well as the possibly could is making such awful, destructive decisions. The initial reaction of the parent is to do inventory and say, “what did I do wrong!” Truth is…as a parent you may have blown it…but you can’t go backwards…and a more important truth to remember for parents (and this is meant as encouragement) is that each and every child is responsible and must take responsibility for their choices and decisions. As a parent you do your child no favors and give them no help if you don’t let them take responsibility. One other thing, and this should make you feel better as a parent as well, God is perfect…and as the Creator, He created the first two children in Adam and Eve. Both of this people made bad choices and they did it with God as their parent. So if the first two kids blew it, then it is inevitable, that even with the perfect parent, there is always a possibility that a child is going to make some bad choices.

After reading an article written by the prodigal child of a very prominent pastor, this list of suggestions is offered to parents as they think about how to deal with their struggling, wayward, prodigal child…and love them in ways that nudge them back to Jesus.

The application for these ideas also apply to a brother or sister or even a friend who has decided to go off the path and live their life with a complete disregard for the things of God. So as each of us as followers strive to seriously learn to love others in a way that is not only pleasing to God…but also in a way to nudge them back toward God. So as you read the list you can easily adapt it to others in your world (even if they are not children.)

1. Remember the real issue.

A rebellious child’s (or sibling’s) real problem is not drugs or sex or cigarettes or pornography or laziness or crime or cussing or slovenliness or …or … The real problem is that they don’t see Jesus clearly. The best thing you can do for them—and the only thing that is going to give you the strength to help them through is to remember the real issue…so your most important job in all you do, every encounter with them—is to show them Christ. It is not a simple or immediate process, but the sins in their life that distress you and destroy them will only begin to fade away when they see Jesus more like he actually is.

2. Pray for them 360 degrees.

Surround them in prayer, pray about their life from every possible angle. And don’t stop praying. Remember, you can’t give them a desire to change or love Jesus more…that comes from the work of God and the child’s desire within.

3. Get real.

If your son or daughter or sibling rejects Jesus, if they choose to live life without reflecting Him in their world, then don’t pretend everything is fine.

This should be a DUH! moment…but sometimes people act like nothing is wrong. Be upfront, be honest, be kind, and be loving…but be real.

For every wayward child, the details will be different. Each one will require parents to reach out in unique ways. Never acceptable, however, is not reaching out at all. If your child is off the path of healthiness don’t ignore it. Holidays might be easier, but eternity won’t be.

The same is true of any loved one. The details are different but the need to have people who really love them is essential and the task is to figure out the unique ways they need to be loved.

4. Don’t expect them to be making Godly choices.

If your child is not following God or living like a follower, then they are not going to act like one.

If you know that he or she has forsaken the faith, don’t expect them to live by the standards you raised them with. For example, you might be tempted to say, “I know you’re struggling with believing in Jesus, but can’t you at least admit that getting wasted every day is sin?”

If he’s struggling to believe in Jesus, then there is very little significance in admitting that drunkenness is wrong. You want to protect him, yes. But his unbelief is the most dangerous problem—not partying. No matter how your child’s unbelief exemplifies itself in his behavior, always be sure to focus more on the heart’s sickness than its symptoms.

If you don’t then you will find yourself trying to understand behavior that is crazy…and if you do understand…well, then doesn’t that make you a bit crazy yourself? That would be a whole other discussion wouldn’t it?

Let’s just say, they might make you feel crazy…just don’t allow it to make you crazy!

Any adult sibling that makes the choice to go and live sideways doesn’t really see it as a bad choice. For the same reasons unpacked as we were thinking about child, the same dynamic is true for the sibling…the symptom is bad but the sickness is the issue.

5. Welcome them home.

Because the deepest concern is not your child’s actions, but his heart, don’t create too many requirements for coming home. If he has any inkling to be with you, it is God giving you a chance to love him back to Jesus. Obviously there are some instances in which parents must give ultimatums: “Don’t come to this house if you are…”

But these will be rare.
Don’t lessen the likelihood of an opportunity to be with your child by too many rules.
Pray through which rules are the ones that are essential and most important, share them, and then throw out the lifeline so they can come home.

If your daughter smells like weed or an ashtray, spray her jacket with Febreze and change the sheets when she leaves, but let her come home. If you find out she’s pregnant, take her to her twenty-week ultrasound, protect her from Planned Parenthood, and by all means let her come home. If your son is broke because he spent all the money you lent him on loose women and ritzy liquor, then forgive his debt as you’ve been forgiven, don’t give him any more money, and let him come home. If he hasn’t been around for a week and a half because he’s been staying at his girlfriend’s—or boyfriend’s—apartment, plead with him not to go back, and let him come home alone.

Make sure they know there is a lifeline to grab and that you are at the other end holding on…and you always will be holding on.

You throw the same lifeline to siblings…now they may or may not need a home to come to. They may if they really trash their life, but they need a soft place to connect with and land. As a follower you can be that soft place. In doing so, you are giving them a home they can run to.

6. Be gentle in your disappointment.

What really concerns you is that your child or sibling is destroying herself, not that he or she is breaking rules. Treat them in a way that makes this clear. They probably know—especially if they were raised as a Christian—that what they are doing is wrong. And they definitely know you think it is.

You will find them at times trying to put a very spiritual spin on bad behavior to get your approval. Here is the deal, they don’t really need you to keep pointing out the bad behavior. They do need to see how you are going to react to their evil and that will matter. Even if they say it doesn’t.

Parents ought to stand kindly and firmly, always living in the hope that they want their child to return to. Jesus loves your kid more than you do, always has…always will. Brothers, sisters, and friends stand just as kindly and just as firmly in the hope that loved ones will make the heart choices necessary to improve their lives and connect with the Father.

7. Respect their friends.

Honor your wayward child in the same way you’d honor any other unbeliever. They may run with crowds you’d never consider talking to or even looking at, but they are your child’s friends. Respect that—even if the relationship is founded on sin. (Now I know respect is earned so go back and reread the line before…you are respecting the fact that they are friend of your child or sibling…not them, or their lifestyle…but a little respect is a great place to start) They’re bad for your son, yes. But he’s bad for them, too.

There may be some reasons to set up boundaries for these friends, set them and be honest about why they are set that way…that also shows respect.

An example that someone gave was this…When your son shows up for a family birthday celebration with another girlfriend—one you’ve never seen before and probably won’t see again—be hospitable. She’s also someone’s wayward child, and she needs Jesus, too.

With a sibling for friend it is easy to see that this applies as well.

8. Feed them.

Get together with him face to face if you can. You may think this is stressful and uncomfortable, but trust me that it’s far worse to be in the child’s shoes—he is experiencing all the same discomfort, but compounded by guilt. So if he is willing to get together with you, praise God, and use the opportunity.

A good way to carry these uncomfortable moments is by adding comfort food. I know it sounds dumb. But offer them a chance to relax and eat. Maybe it is in your home, maybe you need to find neutral ground…this is not a dinner summit to solve life issues, this is a chance to make sure you kid is eating and let them see you meet what is a basic need.

It will feel almost hypocritical to talk about his daily life, since what you really care about is his eternal life, but try to anyway. He needs to know you care about all of him. Then, before lunch is over, pray that the Lord will give you the gumption to ask about his soul. You don’t know how he’ll respond. Will he roll his eyes like you’re an idiot? Will he get mad and leave? Or has God been working in him since you talked last? You don’t know until you risk asking.

9. Take an interest in their pursuits.

Odds are that if your daughter is purposefully rejecting Christ, then the way she spends her time will probably disappoint you. Nevertheless, find the value in her interests, if possible, and encourage her. You went to her school plays and soccer games when she was ten; what can you do now that she’s twenty to show that you still really care about her interests?

Jesus spent time with tax collectors and prostitutes, and he wasn’t even related to them. Imitate Christ by being the kind of parent who will put some earplugs in your pocket and head downtown to that dank little nightclub where your daughter’s CD release show is. Try to muscle through their favorite TV show so you have common ground to talk. Encourage her and never stop praying that she will begin to use her gifts for Jesus’ glory instead her own.

The same applies to siblings…you know them, you have done a lot of life together…build on the common experiences. In those you will find some common ground to communicate and stay connected. It may sound silly but the common stuff is what Jesus used to teach heart changing lessons, this common experience may be just the language you can speak that will spark their hearts.

10. Point them to Christ.

This can’t be over-stressed. It is the whole point. No strategy for reaching your son or daughter or sibling will have any lasting effect if the underlying goal isn’t to help them know Jesus.

It’s not so that they will be good kids again; it’s not so that they’ll get their hair cut and start taking showers; it’s not so that they’ll like classical music instead of train wreck metal that makes your ears bleed; it’s not so that you can stop being embarrassed at your weekly Bible study; it’s not so that they’ll vote your way again by the next election; it’s not even so that you can sleep at night, knowing they’re not going to hell.

It is not so your brother, sister, or friend will become your “best buddy” and you will do everything together…

The only ultimate reason to pray for them, welcome them, plead with them, email them, eat with them, or take an interest in their interests is so that their eyes will be opened to Christ.

And not only is he the only point—he’s the only hope. When they see the wonder of Jesus, satisfaction will be redefined.

Be faithful and don’t give up.