When You Love a Prodigal: Banishing Fear and Leaning into God’s Love

When Judy Douglass and her husband agonized over their son and his destructive choices, they turned to friends around the world for prayer support. Over time their call for prayer turned into an annual Worldwide Prodigal Prayer Day with several thousand first-names-only on the prayer list. “Almost every family I know has a “prodigal”—someone who is making destructive life choices,” she says on her website.

Now she’s written When You Love a Prodigal: 90 Days of Grace for the Wilderness (Bethany House Publishers, 2019), and today I’m happy to share one of the short essays from her book. Thank you, Judy, for your words of blessing, and may God continue to encourage you as you encourage others!

Banishing Fear

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. – 1 John 4:18

The fear can be overwhelming, can’t it?

Pregnancy. Addiction. Overdose.
Wrong friends. Cutting. Suicide.
Her wasting away because she won’t eat.
The call from the jail or the hospital.
An accident— injuring self or others. His doing something crazy while high.
A visit from the police. Harm to your other children. Living without God.
Your not knowing where they are or what they are doing.
Failing school. Having no future. Fear for your own life.

That’s quite a list. All are quite possible, whether your prodigal is your teen or adult child, a spouse, a sibling, a parent, or a friend.

Fear can be pervasive when you love a prodigal.

I know it has been for me. Friday nights were always the worst in the darkest days of his prodigalness, because he and his friends felt it was their right to have a wild Friday night.

And even today, when he is seeking to make good choices, to choose a better life, the fear lingers and lurks: Will the past return to haunt him? Will one more hard life event trip him up again?

So how do we not live in fear? We live in love— God’s love for us and for our prodigals.

Perfect love casts out fear. And only our Lord has perfect love. He is perfect love.

There are other things we know are true: He is God— sovereign, almighty, omnipotent, the Most High God. He is good— He does all things well, and He is always looking for ways to do good to us.

He invites us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Yes, He is love. He doesn’t just love. He is love. And all the realities of His love— for you and me, and for our loved ones, that we have explored so far— apply here.

But bad things still happen. Wrong choices lead to painful consequences—some of which last a lifetime: People are hurt physically and emotionally, are imprisoned, have an unexpected child. Die.

So where is God’s love in all those things?

We have no way of knowing all the unseen ways in which God—because of His great love— has intervened, protected, rescued. We don’t know what we don’t know.

But we do know that He allows us—and our prodigals—to make choices, to follow our own paths, to pursue our own desires. And sometimes those choices, paths, and desires have extreme consequences.

When I can’t understand what is happening, when it seems there is no good in sight, when I feel that surely someone did snatch my loved one from God’s hands, I can’t rely on what I see or what it seems God is doing or allowing.

So I must go back to who He is: He is God. He is good. He is love. I must lean into that love, believe that His love can bring good from the worst situation and that He is able to rescue and redeem the most degenerate.

That love will cover me with grace and flood me with peace. And that love can banish my fears. And yours!

Response: Recall a time when your prodigal’s choices filled you with fear.
1. What were you afraid of? Did that fearful situation materialize?
2. Has God’s love driven out fear for you? If not, how could you experience that reality?

Judy Douglass is a writer, speaker, encourager, advocate. She partners with her husband, Steve, to lead Cru/Campus Crusade for Christ globally, speaks all over the world, and is the author of When You Love a Prodigal: 90 Days of Grace for the Wilderness (Bethany House, 2019) along with five other books. She has three children and nine grandchildren.

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