Letter to the Father of a Prodigal Son
May 23, 2023
Prodigals come in many varieties.
Here’s one story.
I received a note from a man whose adult son has announced that he is now a woman. He demands that his family use his “new” name and address him as she/her.
The man and his wife raised their children in the Christian faith. Understandably, their son’s sudden announcement has sent shock waves throughout the family. The father asked for my advice on navigating difficult situations involving their son.
Here is what I wrote to him, with all identifying details removed:
Thanks so much for your note. I am certainly sorry for what you are going through, but it is a story being repeated in many families today.
Let me pass along a few thoughts that may help you in dealing with your son who has wandered into transgenderism.
Don’t fight over the name question. If your son wishes to be called by another name, that’s fine. Names change over time. There are plenty of androgynous names: Pat can be a boy’s name or a girl’s name, etc. You are not compromising if you call your son by something other than his given name.
But don’t give in on the pronoun front. Your son is a boy, not a girl. He is a he, not a she or a they or a them. No amount of obfuscation can change that fact.
Read this article by Rosaria Butterfield. It explains why Christians must speak the truth even in the pronouns we use.
Christians believe in revealed truth (John 17:17). We aim to be people who speak and live the truth. The great lie of our age is that male and female are merely artificial constructs assigned at birth. You cannot speak the truth if you call your son by a feminine pronoun. That’s the great dividing line.
But what if your son threatens to leave your family?
Let him go.
Ultimately, that’s what you must do. That’s what the father did in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). I think the dad knew his son would waste his inheritance on wild women. He knew (or strongly suspected) his son would find the prostitutes, lose his inheritance, and end up eating with the pigs. But he let him go anyway.
What your son needs is something only God can give him. Acts 11:18 talks about how the gospel came to the Gentiles. After Peter reported to the other apostles what he had seen, they concluded God had granted the Gentiles “repentance that leads to life.” That’s a gift from God.
Remember that Jesus compared the Spirit’s work to the blowing of the wind (John 3:8). The only thing that can help your son is the wind of the Holy Spirit blowing through his heart. Until that happens, his eyes will be firmly closed.
Recently my wife and I listened to Luke 18 in an audio version. That chapter begins with Jesus saying we should always pray and not faint (v. 1). Why would he say that? Because we live in fainting times. These are hard days when Satan has attacked the truth with clever lies and sophisticated deception. He has taken control of the media so that young men like your son believe they are women, not men. That is demonic. It is diabolical. And it is certainly disheartening to you.
So the challenge today is to love your son and never stop praying for him. Never stop. Always praying. Always believing. Always hoping.
I love that part of the Prodigal Son parable where Jesus says the father was standing and waiting for his son to return (Luke 15:20). While his son was still afar off, the father saw him on the horizon, broken by his sin and ruined by his folly. Thoroughly ashamed of the mess he had made of his own life and afraid of what his father would do or say, he walks back slowly to the only home he had left.
Jesus said that the father ran to him. Ran to welcome him home! Get the ring! Get the robe! Kill the fattened calf! Let’s have a party!
Pray for that day to come. Pray for repentance. Pray for brokenness. Ask God to do what only God can do.
Never give up, and never stop praying for your son. Pray and wait. Don’t let the devil discourage you. Reject his whispers that your son will never change.
Stand and fight the good fight of faith. In hard times, the real test of faith is that we keep on praying.
Don’t argue with your son. He already knows what you believe. He knows what the Bible says. He knows what he is doing is wrong. It is a sin against God, and it is a sin against God’s creation.
If he wishes to leave, he is old enough to do what he wants. Let him go and commit him to God. But make it clear that you will not waver in your convictions. Tell him, “I’m not the one who has changed. You are.” If he breaks up the family, that will be on him, not you.
Let there be no threats and certainly no physical confrontation. Read James 1:19-20 and ask God to make it real in your heart. Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and ask God to help you love your son even as he has chosen an evil path.
Ultimately, we must relinquish our loved ones into God’s hands and say, “Lord, they belong to you. Always have, always will.” They never were ours to start with. It is so hard to yield them to the Lord, but we can do it if we remember that his love never fails, that he knows what he is doing, and that he is a better parent than we are.
In our pain, we sometimes look at the prodigals around us and wonder where God is. He is not unknowing or uncaring. He is not surprised or stumped.
Though your son may have left the Lord, the Lord has not left him, not even for a second. He may be “lost” to you, but he is not “lost” to Jesus. He knows your son better than you do, and he loves him more than you do.
If your son seems like a hopeless case, at least we can put the hopeless case at God’s doorstep, which is where it belongs. Consider what happened to our Lord during Holy Week. On Friday he was crucified and buried. On Saturday night there was a “hopeless case” in the Garden Tomb. On Sunday morning the whole world changed when Jesus rose from the dead.
You never know what God will do, so keep on believing and keep on praying. God specializes in impossible situations, and he loves to prove that hopeless cases aren’t hopeless after all.
For your son, ask God to open the eyes of his heart so that light from heaven can come flooding in (Ephesians 1:18). This is the only thing that can change him.
Never apologize for what the Bible says.
Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Hang on to that verse. We must pray and believe and be brave. We must speak the truth in love–not with anger but with deep conviction that only the truth can set us free.
Years ago I heard it put this way: “The truth will set you free, but it will hurt you first.” This applies to you and me just as much as it does to your son. Only God’s truth can set us free.
Above all else, stay close to the Lord. Do not let anger overtake you. Reject bitterness. Stay close to your church and to your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Meanwhile, wait and pray and never give up. God is not finished with you or your son. May the last chapter be filled with hope and joy because “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24). May God grant it!
Thank you for writing. Keep me posted on how things go.