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What The Prodigal Teaches About Recovery

By Dr. David Stoop


I was meditating on the parable of the Prodigal recently. It’s such a familiar passage in Luke 15 that I wondered what God would show me that was fresh and new for me. For the first time, I saw the timeless family recovery principles articulated by Jesus. In particular, I saw what a parent is to do when a child has gotten involved with drugs or alcohol. Here are the 7 principles I drew from that parable.

1. The father didn’t go looking for his son, even though the son was most likely in a dangerous place. He didn’t try to protect his son from the situation the son had chosen. This is so hard for the parent to do, but it is a sound principle. The world was no less dangerous when Jesus told this parable than it is today.

2. Eventually, the son ran out of co-dependents–no one gave the Prodigal anything. He was allowed to exhaust all his resources. He ran out of friends, and certainly couldn’t call home for some more money. He was a Jew and he was envying the food he was giving to the pigs. He was at a dead-end in his life with only one choice left–repent and return home and begin his recovery.

3. The result was what every parent in that situation prays for and wants–the son came to his senses! But he could only come to his senses when he was out of options. And he was only out of options because his family didn’t come looking for him and rescuing him from the circumstances he had created.

4. Once the son had repented, turned his life around, and started a recovery process, only then was there a great celebration.

5. The father’s actions were based on love and compassion. A parent in similar circumstances might look at the prodigal’s father and think he was being harsh, or cruel. But the father showed tough love with both of his sons.

6. Part of the Prodigal’s recovery was learning to live with the consequences of the choices he had made. One massive choice he had to live with was the reality that now everything the father owned would eventually belong to the older son.

7. The sins of the Prodigal were against both God and against his family. He clearly articulates this reality when he confessed to his father that he had “sinned against both heaven and you. There would be a human side to his recovery, but equally important, there was a spiritual side to his healing and recovery.

None of these are easy things for a parent to do. Which do you think is the hardest one for a parent?

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