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Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_-_The_Return_of_the_Prodigal_SonDo you know the pain of mothering a prodigal?

If ever a situation poured self-recrimination, regret, and remorse on a mother, it is this one. Whether or not we have contributed to the child leaving home, faith, church, and even in some cases, God, our child has made a decision that we must respect. — We must not chide ourselves over our children’s autonomous choices.

Mention of the mother is missing in the most famous account of a prodigal, told by Luke in his gospel. Most likely she was there, though. Author Henri Nouwen explains that he sees the mother in the hands of the father in Rembrandt’s painting of The Prodigal (above):

“The father’s left hand touching the son’s shoulder is strong and muscular. How different is the father’s right hand! It lies gently upon the son’s shoulder—to offer consolation and comfort. It is a mother’s hand.” (quoted from The Return of the Prodigal, Image Book, 1992)

One mother admitted that it was easier for her husband to accept their daughter’s return than it was for her. Her struggle exemplifies the unrealistic responsibility mothers tend to assume for the destiny of their children. “What will people say about me as a mother?”

The prodigal may represent one of the hardest trials of a mother’s heart. But after we have cried an ocean and wailed into the dark silence of the night, hope in God. He is the heavenly Parent and is willing to wait, knowing that we all must come to an end of our own self-sufficiency before we become truly dependent on Him and not ourselves.

Let the prodigal process have its way. It is far more important for your wandering child to find the Father, than for your child to make you look good.

Henri Nouwen says that we are all prodigals if we are looking for our approval and acceptance from anywhere other than God. That includes mothers. Are we looking for the commendation of the church, family, or community that we want to impress with our perfect family, while our prodigal causes us shame and embarrassment? Then we too are being profligate in terms of our relationship with our heavenly Father, since we are looking for our identity outside of Christ. When our self identity is extricated from that of our child’s, then we are freed to love enough to let them go. We can let our reputation slide and learn our own utter dependence on God while we wait for our prodigal child to learn it as well.

We have no need to pretend in order to gain either the approval of God or man. We have no need to hide our pain or the less than perfect places and people in our lives.

“Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not ‘mine,’ but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I am not going to go back on that” (Galatians 2).

Alice Scott-Ferguson is a Scottish-born freelance writer, author, and motivational speaker who lives in Arizona. She writes from her heart as a wife, mother, grandmother, and Christ-follower. Among other books, she is the author of Mothers Can’t Be Everywhere, But God Is : A Liberating Look at Motherhood, from which this post is extracted.