by Dave Harvey and Paul Gilbert, adapted from their new book, Letting Go: Rugged Love for Wayward Souls.
Are you dealing with a loved one who is rebellious and wayward? How do you know when to let them go, to release them into the consequences of their actions? And is there any hope of this bringing them back into relationship with you? Think of the following questions from Dave Harvey and Paul Gilbert as road signs—indicators that signal when it’s time to start looking at the route of redemptive release. Redemptive release is not a magic formula that fixes every problem. But it is a step we need to take if we are to have any hope of healing.
1. Have You Prayed Fervently?
Paul tells the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer is essential to the type of battle we are engaged in. Rebellious waywardness is a spiritual battle, and we’re not wrestling against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). You can’t fight with words and reasonable arguments alone. In fact, Scripture provides piercing insight on what lies behind a prodigal’s flight, and it’s pretty diabolical. “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Be ready for things to change in unexpected ways when you pray. Things will often get worse before they get better.
Remember: only God is big enough to win this battle. To engage him for our cause, we must pray.
But there’s another reason to pray. If you’re interested in our book Letting Go: Rugged Love for Wayward Souls, you undoubtedly feel spent. Spiritually exhausted. You’ve already left it all out on the field only to realize the game has just started. Yes, your prodigal needs prayer. But you need it too! You need strength; you need help; you need power. You need to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).
2. Does This Person Have Psychological Problems?
At times sinful and foolish behavior is being fueled by unrecognized physical or psychological problems, issues that make normal interventions largely ineffective. In extreme cases, clinical factors can be at play that may be diminishing the prodigal’s capacity to accurately judge right from wrong. A bi-polar spouse needs to be properly evaluated and may need medication. When patterns of irrational or harmful behavior arise, it’s wise to immediately involve outside experts who are trained to address these kinds of issues. We say this not to replace pastoral care and counseling but to supplement it. Our brokenness manifests in many forms, some physical, others spiritual, and a holistic response is required to address the problems we face.
3. Have Your Words Lost All Influence?
To understand whether our words can carry any redemptive influence, two essential questions must be answered.
First, are they habitually lying? It’s hard for prodigals to speak truth when they’re working so hard to deny it. Serial lying probably means it’s time to pivot.
Second, is the person listening to you?
When dealing with a prodigal, your words are subject to the law of diminishing returns. Prodigals become so hardened to input and correction that their hearts are more like a piece of Teflon than a sponge. You’ll quickly recognize when your words are being deflected, not absorbed. If this is happening, it’s a sign that to the wayward person, you’ve become part of the problem, not part of the solution.
If your words are being deflected and the wayward person believes you are part of the problem, then your words have lost all influence, and you need to forge a new direction.
4. Have You Suffered Long with Little Fruit?
Our patience and longsuffering are important means God uses to expose and crush folly in the heart of a fool. These spiritual fruits are like holy antiseptic on a soul’s wound, working constantly beneath the surface to bring healing. Yet at times our longsuffering patience is met with an equally stubborn resistance. When this happens, a boundless forbearance can serve to accommodate sin rather than serving the sinner. An environmental change may be needed.
Remember: the wayward are prone to take advantage of human patience. This tendency does not excuse us from showing patience—we must be willing to love our prodigal by embodying the gospel for an extended season. But a truly prodigal heart exploits longsuffering by treating it as an open invitation to unaccountable indulgence. In this case, it may be time to convert the safe passage they enjoy at home into a temporary visa to another place.
While this list is far from exhaustive, a “yes” to one of these four questions reveals that you’ve lost the ability to engage, speak into, and influence a prodigal. Letting go in the present may be the only way to secure their future.
— Paul Gilbert and Dave Harvey, Letting Go: Rugged Love for Wayward Souls
How to Use This Book
Are you dealing with the pain of a prodigal child or spouse? Are you exhausted by trying to love them?
Read Letting Go.
This book will help you forge a new direction—giving you practical, biblically-based counsel and encouragement and hope.