The Painful Path of a Prodigal: Anger and Bitterness

It is probably inevitable that parents of prodigals will struggle with anger over the endless impact of the destructive choices of their wayward son or daughter. Their manipulation, lies, and repeated efforts to use you to their advantage can provoke an anger you never thought a parent could have toward their child. If not checked, this anger will damage your other relationships, impair your ability to reach out in love to your prodigal, and jeopardize your spiritual health.

A prodigal is accountable for the sinful choice provoking our anger, but we are accountable for our response to their choice. Their sinful action does not justify a sinful response on our behalf. We must never excuse our sin because it was provoked by the sin of another. When confronted with our sinful response—either internally, by the Spirit’s conviction, or by someone else—we must stop when the words “Yes, but” arise in our heads or flow from our lips. We must not allow ourselves to seek justification for a sinful response—in reality, there is none.

Though the public nature of our prodigal’s actions may have brought embarrassment to our family, should it matter what others think? Did not Paul declare, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court” (1 Corinthians 4:3)? When we respond with anger due to public embarrassment, is this not the response of a prideful heart? We may feel ashamed because we think others are judging us for not parenting our prodigal well. Are we not giving over to the fear of man? Does the Word of God show us a better way?

Some Christians who have walked a long journey with a prodigal have allowed anger to dominate their lives. In their deep disappointment and embarrassment at the reckless choices of their prodigal, they have turned their focus to their personal injuries. Some loved ones of prodigals fall into the trap of creating a mental catalogue of the offenses they have had to bear. They rehearse the wrongs and often share them with others. Soon, bitterness becomes the dominant attitude toward their prodigal, readily spilling over to the rest of life. If you find yourself in a place where anger has morphed into a root of bitterness, take radical action to dig it out of the depths of your heart. You must see it for the sin it is and make full confession. Humbly and openly, come before God.

Festering anger is serious business. Do not let it find a home in your heart. Battle against it when you are provoked by the choices of your prodigal. Instead, we should pray, “Lord, use this to show the love of Christ to my prodigal. May my actions bear witness for You before all who watch my response.” Rest assured, others are watching.

Excerpted from The Painful Path of a Prodigal: Biblical Help and Hope for Those Who Love the Wayward and Rebellious by Craig K. Svensson.

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