Surprised by a Prodigal
By Anne Reed
Several years ago while in Indiana Amish country, I learned about “Rumspringa.” Rumspringa is a period of time when young people, who were raised Amish, begin to experience increased social activity.
The local who introduced me to the concept of Rumspringa described it as a time when Amish youth are essentially given permission by their family and community to sow their wild oats in the world. I was told, “Don’t let your kids get around Amish kids in Rumspringa – they are wild!”
As someone whose roots are found in the Anabaptist Mennonite church groupings from which Amish originated, I was shocked by this. I found it difficult to conceive that these purist people, known for God-centered, simple living, and reluctance to adopt many conveniences of modern technology, would actually make provision for their children to seek out the experiences of a flagrantly sinful lifestyle.
I later learned this characterization of Rumspringa was a bit unfair and inaccurate. Amish do not encourage their children to behave badly during Rumspringa. But since even Amish children have their own minds and wills, some step outside the faith—at least for a time.
We are given so much instruction in the Word concerning our children and what it takes to be loving, wise, Godly parents:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:4-7).
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Colossians 3:21 says likewise, that children would not become discouraged.
A host of wisdom is found in Proverbs concerning the training and discipline of children: Proverbs 13:4, 13:24, 22:15, 23:13-14, 29:17, 31:27-28
Our children are a gift from God like no other entrusted to us. There is no greater blessing. And there is no greater responsibility.
As Christians who hold to the Word of God, we take our role as parents seriously. We relate to John’s sentiment when he said he had “no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4).
Just like the Amish, we find no joy in seeing our children walk outside of truth. But there comes a time when we must let go and trust. In reality, most individuals have some kind of crisis of faith in order to be truly birthed into the Kingdom. Some crises last longer and are more obvious than others.
The parable told by Jesus in Luke 15:11-32 endears us to the heavenly Father who pours out His unconditional love to His children. Perhaps you can relate because you’ve been the wandering child, or maybe you have a wandering child—or both.
The parable contains no details about the son’s upbringing. How successful was the father in carrying out his God-given responsibilities? We don’t know. It doesn’t seem to be the point in the story. Instead, this parable helps us understand the character of a loving father—of God Himself.
When the young man came to his senses and returned to his father hoping he would accept him as a servant, his father spotted him from afar. He must have been actively watching for his return.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:20-24).
We can be comforted by the greatest disciple-maker of all times, Jesus of Nazareth, who knows what it’s like to watch His precious disciples question, doubt, stray, and walk away. We see from His example there is no perfect formula to ensure unbroken faithfulness.
Unlike the elder brother who finds fault in the Father’s extravagant grace, unlike onlookers who might jump to conclusions about our methods or intent as parents, Jesus pours out His grace and mercy. He hears our prayers and intercedes for us. The epitome of love, He has experienced immense loss and grief. He understands. He loves our children more than we do.
So, keep praying, praising, and watching for your prodigal. And through it all, be patiently grateful for the crisis that births faith, knowing God is patiently working all things together—for His ultimate glory.
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. ‘See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland’” (Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV).