Elizabeth Stone wrote that having a child is “to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Indeed. My biggest fear is that my children might walk away from God.

Perhaps Solomon shared the same concern. He began Proverbs with seven chapters addressed to his children. Every chapter opens with a variation of “My child, never forget the things I have taught you” (Proverbs 3:1). He later wrote, “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it” (Proverbs 22:6). Yet he likely realized there are no guarantees.

Jesus understood and told a story that offers hope for anguished parents. The parable of the prodigal son reminds us that we can’t control a child’s heart. The son essentially told his father, “Drop dead. I want my inheritance now” (see Luke 15:12). If it could happen to this dad, it can happen to us. We can’t make our child love us or Jesus. But we can choose:

Patience. The father didn’t step in and rescue his son but gave him room to make his own choices, despite the possibility of negative consequences (Luke 15:13-19).

Prayer. “And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming” (Luke 15:20). The father never stopped hoping his son would return. We can’t change our child’s heart, but we know Someone who can. As Bishop Ambrose encouraged the mother of a wayward son named Augustine, “It is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.”

Love. The father immediately forgave his son. He “ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). The father in this story is God. He loves prodigals like us, and He cares for our children even more than we do. Let’s rest in that reality.

NLT 365-day reading plan passage for today: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13