The Wayward Child and Prayer
"I'm staying up all night to pray for you." Ruth's words pounded my heart as I drove home, knowing my boyfriend would probably be upset that I was so late in meeting him. Once more, we fought about our different views on religion and faith. Once more, he left frustrated and confused and once more, I knew I was making a mess of my life and his. I didn't know how to communicate what was in my heart. And such frustration begged the question, "Did I really understand what I had so much trouble expressing?"
My father followed me upstairs a few minutes after I trudged up to my third floor bedroom. I tried to hide my tear stained face but I'm pretty sure he knew I was upset. He asked, "What did Ruth say?" Who knows why I told him? We were estranged because of my rebellion and talking was not our strong suit. But the words came tumbling out. "Ruth told me I need to run away."
Close to fifty years later I wonder what my father, a man of few words, thought in that moment. Did he quickly pray, ""Lord, is this the moment we've been asking for? Give me the right words to help my daughter do what you want?" Was my mother in their bedroom, pleading with the Lord to break through my hardened heart?
Whatever he was thinking, I can still see him standing in my doorway, quietly and calmly speaking truth about my circumstances, asking questions to help me sort through my thoughts, encouraging me to listen to my dear friend who promised to stay up all night and pray for me to do the right thing.
I easily recall that feeling of being moved by an invisible force, knowing my future depended on the decision of that moment. With my permission, my father called my brother and I heard him say these words, "Your sister is in trouble and needs a place to stay."
Within forty-eight hours, with my car packed, my two little sisters stuffed into the back seat and my mother by my side, I was on my way to Bloomington, Indiana. No job, no permanent place to live. No friends. And a "Dear Chuck" letter taped to my boyfriend's door, telling him I loved him, but loved Jesus more. And, "don't try to find me."
I fell into a deep sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow of the hotel that night. But a few hours later, the sound of crying woke me. My mother, like so many mothers before her, was crying over her daughter. Were they tears of fear for my future? Or was she crying with relief that the Lord had moved in a supernatural way?
When loved ones are in trouble, making choices we are sure are harmful, and our words are met with anger, there is a way to be mysteriously connected to them. It is the way of prayer. Unbeknownst to me, my mother had marshaled together a force of faithful women (including my pastor's wife, Ruth) to cover this wayward daughter with prayer. They pled my case before the Father, that this covenant child of His was wandering and the Shepherd needed to bring her back home.
Almost fifty years later, friends recruit me to pray for their wayward children just like my mother recruited her friends. Whenever despair fills my heart that a particular young adult's heart seems too hard, too rebellious, too determined to go their own way, rather than His, God reminds me of my own rebellious heart, the disrespect I exhibited toward my parents' faith.Whenever I am tempted to respond with disbelief when a beloved young adult child makes immoral and dangerous choices, I remember that I was that young adult. I keep praying for the Holy Spirit to do what only He can do. And I start watching for His presence, hoping and then trusting that He is doing something better than anything I could dream.
I love how author Paul Miller captures this truth in his book, A Praying Life: "When you stop trying to control your life and instead allow your anxieties and problems to bring you to God in prayer, you shift from worry to watching. You watch God weave his patterns in the story of your life. Instead of trying to be out front, designing your life, you realize you are inside God’s drama. As you wait, you begin to see him work, and your life begins to sparkle with wonder.
You are learning to trust again.”
God used multiple circumstance to turn my heart toward Him, to where He made my childhood faith an adult faith, my own faith rather than my parents'. My young adult choices created chaos, havoc, conflict, and excruciating pain, not just in my family but in my boyfriend's family. How I wish I could undo the hurt I caused. Yet through my sinfulness God's grace reigned and He brought beauty from ashes. We experienced reconciliation, not only with our God through Jesus' sacrifice, but also with family.
Is your prodigal far from home if not physically then spiritually and emotionally? Has every attempt to reach him or her built more walls, created more anger, rebellion? Pray. Pray and pray some more. Ask Jesus to guide your words, or to show you small ways to demonstrate your unconditional love. Ask others to join you in praying fervently, and watch, watch for the Lord's movement. Don't be surprised if the change takes place in your own heart before the heart of your child. Listen carefully as the Lord challenges your own attitude and behavior. And then obey His Word, no matter how insignificant you think your obedience is in the context of our child's sinful decisions. Though this is an excruciatingly painful and fearful time, it can also be one of the most tender times of experiencing God's presence.
In His grip with you,