How Can You Help a “Prodigal” Child?
“Rejoice because . . . he was lost and was found.”—LUKE 15:32.
1, 2. (a) How have some young ones reacted to Christian truth? (b) How might parents and children in such situations feel?
“I’M LEAVING the truth!” How shocking it is for God-fearing parents who have tried hard to bring up their children in the Christian way to hear these words from a child! Other youths just “drift away” without actually declaring their intentions. (Hebrews 2:1) Many of these resemble the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable, who left his father’s house and squandered his inheritance in a distant land.—Luke 15:11-16.
2 Though most of Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have this problem, for those who do, no words of comfort can completely remove their grief. And not to be overlooked is the unhappiness that the wayward youth himself can experience. Deep down, his conscience may trouble him. In Jesus’ parable, the prodigal son eventually “came to his senses,” to the joy of his father. How can parents and others in the congregation help prodigals to ‘come to their senses’?—Luke 15:17.
Why Some Decide to Leave
3. What are some reasons why young ones decide to leave the Christian congregation?
3 There are hundreds of thousands of young ones who serve Jehovah happily in the Christian congregation. Why, then, do other young ones leave? They may feel that they are losing out on something that the world offers. (2 Timothy 4:10) Or they may consider Jehovah’s protective sheepfold too restrictive. A guilty conscience, a strong interest in the opposite sex, or a desire to be accepted by one’s peers can also cause a youngster to drift away from Jehovah’s flock. A youth may quit serving God because of what seems to be hypocrisy on the part of his parents or some other Christian.
4. What is often the root cause of young ones’ going astray?
4 A child’s rebellious attitude and behavior are usually symptoms of spiritual weakness, reflections of what is in his heart. (Proverbs 15:13; Matthew 12:34) For whatever reason a youth goes astray, the root of the problem often lies in his not having “an accurate knowledge of truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7) More than merely going through the motions of worshiping Jehovah, it is important that young ones cultivate a close personal relationship with him. What will help them do so?
Draw Close to God
5. What is essential in order for a young person to cultivate a personal relationship with God?
5 “Draw close to God,” wrote the disciple James, “and he will draw close to you.” (James 4:8) To do so, a young person must be helped to cultivate a taste for the Word of God. (Psalm 34:8) Initially he will need “milk”—the basic teachings of the Bible. But as he takes delight in God’s Word and acquires a taste for “solid food”—deep spiritual information—spiritual maturity will not be far off for him. (Hebrews 5:11-14; Psalm 1:2) A youth who admitted that he had been swallowed up in the way of the world began to appreciate spiritual values. What helped him turn around? Responding to a suggestion to read the whole Bible, he kept to a regular Bible reading schedule. Yes, reading the Word of God regularly is essential for cultivating a close bond with Jehovah.
6, 7. How can parents help their children develop a fondness for God’s Word?
6 How vital that parents help their children to cultivate a fondness for God’s Word! Despite having a regular family study, one teenage girl associated with delinquents. Regarding her family study, she recalls: “When Father asked the questions, I just read off the answers, without even looking at his face.” Instead of just covering the material during a family study, wise parents employ the art of teaching. (2 Timothy 4:2) For a youth to enjoy the study, he must feel involved. Why not ask viewpoint questions and let him express himself? Encourage the young one to make practical application of the material under consideration.*
7 Moreover, make the Scriptural discussion lively. When appropriate, have young ones act out Bible events and dramas. Help them visualize the location and features of the land where events being discussed took place. Using maps and charts may help. Yes, with a little imagination, a family study can be made lively and varied. Parents also do well to examine their own relationship with Jehovah. As they themselves draw closer to Jehovah, they can help their children to do so.—Deuteronomy 6:5-7.
8. How does prayer help one draw close to God?
8 Prayer also helps one draw close to God. A girl in her early teens felt torn between the Christian way of life and her association with friends who did not share her beliefs. (James 4:4) What did she do about it? “For the very first time,” she confessed, “I really prayed to Jehovah about how I felt.” She concluded that her prayer was answered when she eventually found within the Christian congregation a friend in whom she could confide. Feeling that Jehovah was guiding her, she began to build a personal relationship with God. Parents can help their children by improving the quality of their own prayers. When praying as a family, parents can pour out their heart so that their children can feel the personal bond between the parents and Jehovah.
Be Patient but Firm
9, 10. What example did Jehovah set in being long-suffering with the wayward Israelites?
9 When a youth starts to drift away, he may try to isolate himself and resist any effort by his parents to have a spiritual discussion with him. What can parents do in such a trying situation? Consider what Jehovah did with ancient Israel. He put up with the “stiff-necked” Israelites for over 900 years before abandoning them to their wayward path. (Exodus 34:9; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21; Romans 10:21) Despite their repeatedly ‘putting him to the test,’ Jehovah “was merciful” to them. “Many times he made his anger turn back, and he would not rouse up all his rage.” (Psalm 78:38-42) God was faultless in his dealings with them. Loving parents imitate Jehovah and are patient when the child does not immediately respond to their efforts to help him.
10 Being long-suffering, or patient, does not mean “suffering long”; it denotes a refusal to give up all hope for improvement in a disturbed relationship. Jehovah set an example of how to be long-suffering. He took the initiative by sending his messengers to the Israelites “again and again.” Jehovah “felt compassion for his people,” even though “they were continually making jest at the messengers of the true God and despising his words.” (2 Chronicles 36:15, 16) He appealed to the Israelites, saying: “Turn back, please, every one from his bad way.” (Jeremiah 25:4, 5) Yet, Jehovah did not compromise his righteous principles. The Israelites were instructed to “turn back” to God and to his ways.
11. How can parents be long-suffering but firm in dealing with a deviating child?
11 Parents can imitate Jehovah in being long-suffering by not hastily giving up on the deviating child. Without losing hope, they can take the initiative to keep the lines of communication open or to reestablish communication. While sticking to righteous principles, they can “again and again” appeal to the child to return to the way of the truth.
When a Minor Is Disfellowshipped
12. What responsibility do parents have toward a minor who lives with them but who is expelled from the congregation?
12 What if a minor who lives with his parents gets involved in serious wrongdoing and because of his unrepentant attitude is expelled from the congregation? Since the child lives with his parents, they are still responsible for instructing and disciplining him in harmony with God’s Word. How can this be done?—Proverbs 6:20-22; 29:17.
13. How may parents try to reach the heart of an erring offspring?
13 It may be possible—indeed, it would be best—to give such instruction and discipline during a private study of the Bible. A parent must look beyond the child’s hardened attitude and try to see what is in his heart. What is the whole range of his spiritual sickness? (Proverbs 20:5) Can the tender part of his heart be reached? What scriptures can be used effectively? The apostle Paul assures us: “The word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints and their marrow, and is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) Yes, parents can do more than simply tell their offspring not to get involved in wrongdoing again. They can try to initiate and nurture the healing process.
14. What is the first step an erring youth should take to restore his relationship with Jehovah, and how can parents help the child to take that step?
14 An erring youth needs to restore his relationship with Jehovah. The first step he must take is to “repent . . . and turn around.” (Acts 3:19; Isaiah 55:6, 7) In helping the youth in their home to repent, parents must ‘keep themselves restrained under evil, instructing with mildness’ the child who is not favorably disposed. (2 Timothy 2:24-26) They need to “reprove” him in the Biblical sense. The Greek word rendered “reprove” can also be translated “give convincing evidence.” (Revelation 3:19; John 16:8) To reprove, therefore, involves showing enough evidence to convince the child of the sinfulness of his course. Admittedly, doing so is not easy. Where possible, the parents can appeal to his heart, using all means Scripturally appropriate to convince him. They should try to help him to appreciate the need to “hate what is bad, and love what is good.” (Amos 5:15) He may come back to his “proper senses out from the snare of the Devil.”
15. What part does prayer play in restoring an erring one’s relationship with Jehovah?
15 In restoring one’s relationship with Jehovah, prayer is a must. Of course, no one should “make request” concerning blatant sin that is clearly being practiced unrepentantly by any individual once associated with the Christian congregation. (1 John 5:16, 17; Jeremiah 7:16-20; Hebrews 10:26, 27) Yet, parents can ask Jehovah to give them wisdom to deal with the situation. (James 1:5) If a disfellowshipped youth gives evidence of repentance but does not have “freeness of speech toward God,” the parents might pray that if God finds a basis for pardoning the child’s error, that His will be done. (1 John 3:21) Hearing these prayers should help the youth to see Jehovah as a merciful God.*—Exodus 34:6, 7; James 5:16.
16. How can we help family members of minors who have been disfellowshipped?
16 If a baptized youth is disfellowshipped, the congregation members are expected “to quit mixing in company with” him. (1 Corinthians 5:11; 2 John 10, 11) This may eventually help him to ‘come to his senses’ and return to God’s protective fold. (Luke 15:17) Whether he comes back or not, however, members of the congregation can encourage the family of the disfellowshipped youth. We can all look for opportunities to show “fellow feeling” and to be “tenderly compassionate” toward them.—1 Peter 3:8, 9.
How Others Can Help
17. What should congregation members keep in mind when trying to help a straying child?
17 What about a youth who is not disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation but who has become weak in faith? “If one member suffers,” wrote the apostle Paul, “all the other members suffer with [him].” (1 Corinthians 12:26) Others can take an active interest in such a youth. Of course, a measure of caution is needed, since a spiritually ailing youth could adversely influence other young ones. (Galatians 5:7-9) In one congregation, well-meaning adults who wanted to help some youths who had become spiritually weak invited them to gatherings to play popular music together. Though the youths readily complied and enjoyed such sessions, their influence on one another eventually led them to cut their ties with the congregation. (1 Corinthians 15:33; Jude 22, 23) What can help heal the ailing child is, not social gatherings with no spiritual direction, but association that helps him to cultivate a taste for spiritual things.*
18. How can we imitate the attitude of the prodigal’s father in Jesus’ parable?
18 When a youth who has left the congregation comes back to the Kingdom Hall or attends an assembly, think of how he may feel. Should we not show the welcoming attitude of the prodigal’s father in Jesus’ parable? (Luke 15:18-20, 25-32) A teenager who left the Christian congregation and later attended a district convention stated: “I thought everybody would ignore a person like me, but the brothers and sisters approached me and welcomed me. I was deeply moved.” He began studying the Bible again and was later baptized.
Do Not Give Up
19, 20. Why should we maintain a positive attitude regarding a prodigal child?
19 Helping a “prodigal” child ‘come to his senses’ requires patience and can be a challenge to parents and others. But do not give up. “Jehovah is not slow respecting his promise, as some people consider slowness, but he is patient with you because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) We have the Scriptural assurance that Jehovah wants people to repent and live. In fact, he has taken the initiative in making an arrangement to reconcile humans to himself. (2 Corinthians 5:18, 19) His patience has made it possible for millions to come to their senses.—Isaiah 2:2, 3.
20 Should not parents, then, use every Scriptural method possible to help their prodigal minor come to his senses? Imitating Jehovah, be long-suffering as you take positive steps to help your child come back to Jehovah. Firmly stick to Bible principles, and try to reflect Jehovah’s qualities of love, justice, and wisdom while you pray to him for his help. Just as many hardened rebels have responded to Jehovah’s loving invitation to come back, your prodigal son or daughter may well return to God’s protective flock.—Luke 15:6, 7.
For further suggestions on how to teach young ones effectively, see The Watchtower, July 1, 1999, pages 13-17.
Such prayers will not be offered publicly in behalf of a disfellowshipped minor at congregation meetings, as others may not be aware of the condition of the disfellowshipped person.—See The Watchtower, October 15, 1979, page 31.
Do You Recall?
• What may be the root of the problem when youths leave the congregation?
• How can young ones be helped to cultivate a personal relationship with Jehovah?
• Why do parents need to be long-suffering but firm in helping a prodigal child?
• How can those in the congregation help a prodigal youth to return?
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Parents’ heartfelt prayer can help their children feel the personal bond between the parents and Jehovah
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Reading the Word of God is vital for cultivating a close bond with Jehovah
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Welcome a prodigal child when he ‘comes to his senses’
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Take positive steps to help your child come back to Jehovah