As mothers and fathers, the moment our babies are placed within our arms our hearts swell with pride. We peer down into those tiny faces and not only are we filled with an intense love, but we are hopeful. We recognize that within those small, yet to be formed packages, there is potential. Potential to influence and alter our world for good. Potential to develop organizations and ministries that will eradicate human suffering. Potential to expand knowledge and develop lifesaving cures. Potential to create beauty that will soothe troubled souls.  Potential to reach a lost world with the good news of Jesus Christ.

And unfortunately, the potential to break our hearts.

Over the years I’ve encountered many parents who have been devastated by wayward children. Mothers at women’s Bible studies weeping over a rebellious child, or big burly men with tears coursing down their cheeks because of a prodigal son or daughter, are all too common sights within the walls of our churches.  I think all of us have known moms and dads seeking prayer for a child who is “in the world” or who has “walked away from God.” These parents are hurting and confused and often wonder how their children ended up in such a tragic condition.

In the beginning, when they are in shock and disbelief, parents often play the blame game. They blame teachers or peers for influencing their child to go wrong. They blame youth leaders and the church. They blame circumstances. And while all these sources can be contributors, at some point parents must look at two other possible causes.

As difficult as it is to admit, parents need to examine their own behavior toward their wayward child.  Though this is painful, it is necessary to look at our own actions because God does not want us to be blame shifters, but instead to consider honestly our own personal failures and errors. And let’s be honest, all parents make mistakes. All parents err when bringing up our children, even the most godly and wise.

Consider King David, a man after God’s own heart. Davids’s son Amnon raped his half sister Tamar. Then his son Absalom killed Amnon and sought to kill David in quest of the throne. That’s ugly stuff. As  David journeyed from Jerusalem, driven out by his own son, a man named Shimei began cursing and throwing stones at David, blaming him for the catastrophes that had befallen the king. David’s military leader, Abishai, was outraged and asked David for permission to cut off Shimei’s head. But David told Abishai to let Shimei curse him and even declared that Shimei’s rebuke was from the Lord.

The text implies that David understood God was using Shimei to show him his sinfulness in various areas. David must have recognized that he had played a part in the formation of his sons’ wayward characters, and he accepted the blame and its consequences. He took the rebuke, and so should every parent of a child that has done wrong because the recognition of sin is the first step toward the repentance of sin.

But this is not meant as a finger pointing or admonishing. We are all sinful and any of us can have a prodigal child. My point is that we must never cast the blame for our failures on others. We must examine our own hearts and behavior and once that is done, then we can look for additional causes. Then we can, and must, look at the hearts and character of our children.

Our kids, like ourselves, are sinners. The Bible says humans are conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5). It says we go astray as soon as we are born (Psalm 58:3). And it tells us there is no one good, not one (Psalm 14:3). Every human being that has ever been born is sinful and drawn to sinful works rather than to righteousness. Thus, when a man stands before God he will not be able to point at his mom and dad and say, “It is their fault, they didn’t raise me right” and expect to be absolved of wrong. God holds each one of us fully culpable for our own sin, our children included.

In addition, all of us have a conscience. None can say, “I didn’t know.” Our adult children know when they have done wrong. They may not admit it, but they know when they are in sin. God has placed the knowledge of their sin in their hearts and they are responsible for their behavior (Rom. 2:14-15).

Parents, even if you failed in some way, the ultimate responsibility for your children’s sinful choices rests upon their shoulders. Even if you were too strict or too lenient, the bottom line is that your kids know right from wrong. They comprehend sinfulness. They have chosen their path. They have made the decision to disobey God. They are at fault. They must suffer the consequences.

Furthermore, you need to stop looking at that seemingly perfect family in your church or homeschool group and comparing. Holly Holy’s kids may seem perfect, but the reality is that you don’t really know what is going on in that ostensibly perfect home. Think Duggar. For a long time Christians pointed to Josh Duggar as an example of parenting done right. Everyone thought Jim Bob and Michelle had the secret formula. After all, Josh was so pure and upright. He followed the courtship model. He espoused Christian values and even worked at an organization that promoted family related issues. He was such a godly husband and father and son.

But now we know differently.

Despite all the years of pouring God’s word into their son, Josh Duggar sinned. Despite all the hours that Jim Bob and Michelle spent teaching their son right from wrong, Josh turned aside to sexual immorality. And I am confident that Jim Bob and Michelle were crushed. Did Jim Bob and Michelle do something wrong somewhere? I’m sure they did, because all parents do. But Josh, and Josh alone, made a conscious decision to choose sin over righteousness and he alone is responsible for that sin.

Parents, let me reiterate. Despite our personal failures, our kids are responsible for their own actions. They have a conscience and it tells them what is right and wrong. They have the knowledge of the truth and it stares them in the face when a choice must be made regarding good or evil. They know. They are responsible.

But where does that leave the mom and dad whose lives have been turned upside down by the knowledge of their child’s sinful choices? What do any of us do with those broken dreams for our children? We remember five things.

  1. We remember that even good, loving, godly parents can have wayward kids and that even if we have messed up, God’s grace transcends our weaknesses and failures.
  2. We remember that God is merciful and loving and reaches out and saves the prodigal.
  3. We remember that the waywardness of our children is no surprise to God because He knew the path they would follow long before we did.
  4. We remember that our kids are not really ours. They are God’s. We are merely flawed, temporary custodians of the kids that God has entrusted for a short time into our care.
  5. And finally, we remember that God hears our prayers and will answer them in ways that are far better than we can ever imagine.

Hurting parent, be honest, be humble, and then lay aside your guilt and your sorrow and take heart. God isn’t finished with your children. He has a plan for their lives and He will bring it about in His time and through His methods. He will use their potential in ways you cannot comprehend. In this knowledge you can rest, comforted through your heartbreak by the understanding that God continues to work in the hearts of your prodigals and that He loves them.

Even more than you do.