Ministry Resources

The Pain of a Prodigal: When Your Adult Child Abandons the Faith

Author: Mary J. Yerkes

Few things are more heart wrenching to a Christian parent or grandparent than a child who abandons the faith.

Parents want to know, “Why?” “What went wrong?” “Could I have prevented this?” Their pain is compounded when others in the body of Christ become critical or judgmental. Sometimes parents of rebellious children are asked to step down from ministry or leadership positions in the church, suffering guilt, shame, and humiliation in the process.

But what happens when adult children rebel? Are parents responsible for their adult children’s poor choices? Whether they are or not, only God knows. But the fact remains that parents of adult prodigals suffer the same shame and humiliation experienced by parents with rebellious children still living at home. Many want to know, “Can I still serve God if I failed as a parent?”

Did they fail as a parent?

Many of these men and women are faithful, God-fearing people who raised their children right. They diligently prayed, sent their children to Sunday school, taught them how to memorize Scripture, and even sent them on missions trips with their youth groups. Still, their children abandoned the faith. What went wrong?

Children Who Rebel

Only God knows what goes on in the heart and minds of prodigal children.

Last week, I spoke with Carol and Anne, two women who raised their children in God-fearing, Biblical homes. Both now grieve over rebellious adult children and ask, “Where did we go wrong?”

Carol’s husband walked out on her and the children several years ago, leaving her for another woman. She handled the situation better than most, remaining faithful to God during that difficult time and raising her children well. Yet, her oldest daughter is now living in rebellion. Ann, who serves alongside her husband in ministry, suffers as she watches her 25-year-old son drink and party with friends, moving further and further away from God.

The truth is a child sometimes rebels against God despite his parents’ best efforts. Many want to know, “Have I failed as a parent?” The answer is, “Yes. All parents do.” The Bible tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NIV). No perfect Christian home exists, though we tend to think they do, often comparing ourselves to others, wanting to be more like them.

Consider Adam and Eve. Raised by the perfect Father in the perfect home environment, they met with temptation and, given the choice, rebelled against God. Our children face a similar temptation. Regardless of how good their Christian upbringing, our children remain a target for the enemy who seeks to “steal, and kill, and destroy” (John 10:10, NASB).

Our role as parents is to stand firm in the faith, waging war in the heavenlies on our children’s behalf. God calls us to fight for our children and our children’s children, to wield the weapons of our warfare skillfully, for our weapons are “not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4, NASB).

Hope for Parents

If your child has walked away from God, remember God’s faithfulness, meditate on His Word, and stand on His promises. Our children cannot escape God’s passionate pursuit or His unrelenting love. We have a beautiful picture from Luke 15 of God’s love for our wayward children, beginning with verse 4, “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep'” (Luke 15:4-6, NIV).

Take heart. God pursues your prodigal child even now, as you read this.

In Conclusion

Sometimes, despite our honorable intentions and best efforts, our children make choices over which we have no control. Regardless of our children’s choices and the emotional pain they bring, God calls us to himself, to remain persistent in prayer and faithful in service. We must choose to move forward, trusting God–all the while scanning the horizon as we wait expectantly for our prodigal’s return home.

What's Next

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