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In the Fire: Parenting a Prodigal by Abigail Wallace

For all the mommas, dads, and grandparents with prodigals in their families, buckle up for a blessing. This is a topic NOT discussed enough. As someone who has also walked through this fire, I appreciate Abigail's vulnerability.

This is the Central High School attendance office, calling to let you know that your student was marked absent from the following periods: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. If you think this is an error, please call us back.

I didn’t call back. Not this time.

I had the first few times. But not anymore.

The first few times the principal called I wrote it off thinking, lots of teens go through a tough stretch. When our son wouldn’t tell us where he’d been, I explained it away, “He’s afraid to tell us.” But I knew better. When our son turned off the location on his cell phone and refused to answer my texts. I knew.

"Anything is a blessing which makes us pray." -- Charles Spurgeon

Grieving What I Never Had

I was a 47-year-old mother who grieved the family I never had. After ten years of infertility, I birthed two sons. My heart ached for more children, but more children never came. This was not the dream I had for me. I mourned, despite twenty-five years of marriage, our family was only a family of four. I mourned over the missing bond of brotherhood I’d always wanted in a family. I mourned the lack of closeness, love, laughter, and family fun time together at home. I’d seen it in other families, why can’t our boys and our families be close too?

Grief and disappointment come at their own pace, uncontrolled, in waves. Waves of grief hit when a friend posted a photo of her four adorable kids walking along a sunbathed farm path, two blue-jeaned kids walking hand in hand. Her third child pulling a red wagon with their toddler, their fourth child. The caption read, “I love watching them become best friends.”

Another wave of grief washed over me as I sat with our friends and their five children, flipping cards, and grabbing spoons in their dining room. At the table, I kept my smile. But in bed that night, I cried myself dry.

Much of my motherhood has been heartbreak and amorphous grief. It was not a clear and obvious loss, but a vague, ill-defined sense that something was off. Our home life felt more utilitarian than the warmth and intimacy of a family I desired. Eat, sleep, up and off, staccato-like, with few smiles and hugs.

Fifteen years of motherhood, affection, and prayer left me with a sinking feeling that our relationship had not improved. Where other families were close and connected, our family dynamics felt aloof, absent, and alone. Year after year, my fervent prayers were met with a “no,” and then a “not yet.”

Parenting a Prodigal Plot Twist

There is no hero and villain story in this plot-twist tale. But there was definite and great sin on my part. Sins of harshness and selfishness, of unkindness and impatience, to name a few. I have confessed these to my son and my God.

We are all sinners and sufferers. It’s too easy to put ourselves into one group or the other when really, we are all in both. In all history, there was only One sinless sufferer. Which is precisely where the plot turns.

School of Prayer in the Fire

The plot twisted on the day I read from the obscure book of Zechariah in the Old Testament. This happened to be the day I received a more serious call from the authorities about this son I loved, whose heart was far from me.

It was the day I realized I was in the fire, and that the fire was a good place to be.

The verse I read that day was:

“And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, "They are my people"; and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’” (Zechariah 13:9 ESV)

Suddenly, it seems so obvious. God puts his children into the fire to call upon his name, to pray.

But how much does God want us to pray? So much, Pastor John Piper says in a sermon on Zechariah 13:8-9,that he designs the perfect remedy for his faithful, imperfect, weak people, who do not pray with the kind of discipline and desperation and joy, and hunger for God, that they should. So, what is God’s remedy? What is his school of prayer?

The answer is in verse 9: “And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested.”

The school for prayer is in the fire. We matter so much to our Father, he so desires fellowship with us, that he puts us in the fire to push us to pray. Zechariah 13:9 makes that curriculum clear: “When they come through the fire, they will pray to me, and I will answer.”

God Puts us into the Fire to Awaken our Fervent Prayer.

But why? Why does God so want us to pray? Because prayer is one of the means God chooses to fulfill his ancient and ultimate plan.

From beginning to end (Genesis 17:8, Revelation 21:3), God makes his plan plain: I will be their God and they will be my people. Which is exactly how Zechariah 13:9 ends.

“I will say, "They are my people"; and they will say, "The LORD is my God." (Zechariah 13:9)

God taught me that more even than he wants my earthly family to be close, God wants to be intimate with me. In love, God is using these hard mothering years to draw me to him. He wants to hear us pray and say, “The LORD is my God.” Then he will not be silent. He will say, “They are my people.”

I’m still in the fire. But I know it is not a dangerous place to be.

In God’s mercy, it looks like our son will graduate from high school this June. There will be no more attendance office calls. While other seniors have roommates and college majors locked in, we’re not sure our soon-to-be-grad will land in college this fall.

But I suspect that I will remain in the school of prayer. I want to pass the test. “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing his suffering” (Philippians 3:10).

Ever so Slowly, I am Learning.

I am learning that nothing is sweeter than fellowship with the Lord, who knows far better than me, with a sinless purity only He knows, the sorrow when beloved children don’t choose to come close.

I am learning that joy comes from sharing my suffering with him and that not all fires destroy.

“In this, you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7 ESV)

Abigail is a Scripture-soaked, challenger, encourager, spiritual strength trainer, and #meekgeek who stands DAILY in need of God’s mercy and grace. Her greatest joy is helping women grow strong in their faith as they learn to look through their trials to the loving hand of God. In her writing and Bible teaching, she doesn’t shy from the hard topics to nourish stronger, softer saints who embrace God’s sometimes uncomfortable grace. Abigail lives with her husband of 26 years, two teenage sons, and a garage cat named Milky who is down to four lives. She enjoys fast walks, long talks, chasing sunsets, and marking up the books she reads.

Abigail’s new book Meek Not Weak: A 12-Week Guide to the Gentle Strength of Meekness is available at Amazon. For more soul-strengthening resources, subscribe to the weekly blog at or follow her on IG at AbigailWallace.4 or on FB at JoyfullyPressingOn

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