The Prodigal Son Parable gives us a beautiful picture of what God is like and how He opens His arms for us when we least deserve it. But as Lori Ann Wood reveals, it also offers some excellent wisdom that we’d do well to pass on to our teenage children. Here are 18 life lessons for teens, gleaned from the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
I remember clearly how I felt as my oldest child neared high school graduation. I carried a panicky feeling about whether I had prepared her enough, taught her enough, modeled life for her enough as if the culmination of 18 years of parenting had somehow snuck up on me.
I searched for lists of what she would need to know to survive on her own. I didn’t want her to fail, so I not-so-subtly brought up practical subjects in everyday conversation during those last hurried months:
“This is how I clean the shower walls.”
“Here’s an easy way to replace a button.”
“Always carry your keys between your fingers when you’re walking alone.”
“A good way to budget is with cash and envelopes.”
I’m not sure any of it actually sunk in. And maybe that’s okay.
After launching three children and teaching parenting classes for the court system, I have come to realize this: The most valuable lessons we can teach our children might not be what we’d expect.
As parents, our first duty and desire is to protect. But as our children grow, that protecting role must always be yielding to the second role—preparing.
As parents, we should worry less about protecting them from failing, and spend more time preparing them for when they do. Maybe the most important lessons we teach our emerging adults are less instructive and more restorative.
Perhaps we need to shift our focus from ‘how to avoid mistakes’ to ‘how to handle the aftermath’. More guidance on accepting grace, for example. This side of Eternity, every error-prone child needs to hone that skill.
And lessons with so much at stake must come from someone invested in their lives.
They can Google the over-the-counter meds they need for their cold, pull up a YouTube video on how to change a flat tire, and buy a recipe book to mimic your heirloom chocolate cake, but some things our almost-adult children shouldn’t learn on their own.
The most important curricula must come from a trusted Source.
THE HIGHEST AUTHORITY ON RESTORATION IS THE MOST TRUSTWORTHY OF ALL
When Jesus spoke, people listened. Even today, we red-letter His words so we won’t miss them.
Flipping through our Bible, we see only a smattering of red. His words were precious and few, but when Jesus communicated in His signature short story form, it was jam-packed with teaching. Life’s lessons came alive.
In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus told one of His lesson-dense stories about a father releasing a child.
Like many of our own children, the son in the parable expressed an unexpected desire to leave home. This father must have bitten his lip as he gave his naive young adult the savings the family had sacrificed all his life to accumulate.
With a comfortable bank account, the son defiantly moved far away and quickly spent the money in a lifestyle unlike anything he had experienced growing up. Finding himself at a low point and broke, the son resorted to shameful work to survive.
Somewhere in the middle of the mess, he decided to go back home and humbly ask to be put on his father’s payroll as hired help. Ever expectant, his father spotted his worn-down son on the horizon one day, hobbling toward home.
The forgiving father ran to him, swept him up, and celebrated his child’s return.
LESSONS FROM THE PARABLE
1. Don’t Discount Your Roots
Just because they’re in familiar ground, doesn’t mean they’re not valuable. It’s okay to leave home but never pull up those roots if you can help it. They are meant to sturdy you in this stormy life.
2. Friends Mold Your Character
Who you invest your time in determines who you become. It is gradual, but it is powerful. Choose each friend intentionally and wisely.
3. Choices Have Consequences
Grace saves your soul, but it doesn’t shield you from the consequences of your actions. Sometimes the consequence is immediate, sometimes it’s delayed, and sometimes it falls on innocent bystanders. But this physical, pre-Glory realm guarantees that the bullet will fall somewhere.
4. Thank God for Hard Times
Many times in life, you can be on a gradual downhill course and never realize it. Unless you get a wake-up call, like finding yourself eating slop, it may seem too late to get back on the right path.
5. Your Low Point May Be a High Point
Your lowest experiences can give you a much needed vantage point. Life’s truths become clearer when circumstances can’t get any worse. Sometimes you can’t see where you need to be until you’re looking up from rock bottom.
6. Admitting a Mistake Can Be Heroic
While it may be the most difficult, it may also be the single best thing you ever do. After all, in terms of God’s grace, acknowledging your shortcoming is the first step in sealing your soul for Eternity.
7. No One Can Mess Up God’s Purposes
Especially after you’ve made a mistake, it’s easy to believe you have ruined everything, that you have fallen hopelessly out of your Father’s will. But you can never derail God’s ultimate plan.
8. Difficult Days Don’t Have to Define You
Tough experiences change your life, but they don’t have to be in charge of your life. Whether from your own missteps or uncontrollable circumstances, the troubles of life will threaten to swallow your worth. You must be resilient enough to not let them.
9. It Takes Courage to Start Again
The path of least resistance is always the status quo. Breaking away for a new beginning will never be easy.
10. You Can Always Come Home
No matter what happens, shame should never stand in the way of your first and most durable support system.
11. Your Experience is Not Wasted
When you’ve reached the point in your story where home is your last resort, sometimes you’re right where God wants you to be. He’s always done His best work in messy storylines.
12. Parents Wait Expectantly
As parents, we never stop checking our texts, emails, mailbox, or driveway, hoping to see you. As deep as you get into your new, independent life, we will always have a door open and a room ready.
13. Parents Don’t Really Let Go
Even when we release you into the world, we’re still holding you in prayer. And that commitment tethers us both to the Father. Never take that intercession for granted. Share your struggles with the ones who love you most.
14. Forgiveness is Never Off the Table
Regardless of the offense or the time that has passed, forgiveness is always a possibility. It has no load limit and no expiration date.
15. Love Gets the Last Say
God promised that love is unending. Every child has underestimated the durability of a parent’s love and the Father’s grace. But they’re here to stay.
16. Food is Tangible Love
A good home-cooked meal is a needed embrace after you’ve been on your own—and it may mean even more to us to provide it than it does to you to receive it.
17. Your Father Sees Your Potential
Both your earthbound parents and your Heavenly Father always see the best possible version of you. No matter how bad the current version of you might appear to others—or to yourself.
18. You are Worth Receiving Grace.
Accepting that fortified forgiveness, simply because you are an image bearer of Christ, is sometimes a gift to others, but it’s always a gift to yourself.
In retrospect, I wish I had focused more on preparing my children and accepting the grace that can follow their inevitable missteps.
In the Prodigal Son parable, we find such lessons to impart about children leaving home, making mistakes, and finding their way back.
But the directives are not just for us as parents, they are for us as children of God, too. It seems an obvious application for launching our grown children, but even as parents, we find it’s the story of every one of us as we continually struggle to walk toward Home.
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