What the Prodigal Teaches Us About Recovery

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 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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16 Responses to What the Prodigal Teaches Us About Recovery

  1. Zulqarnain says:

    Rule # 1 is the most difficult and later on rule # 4 if you don’t force for recovery then every patience you have made till this time will go in vain.

  2. Bobby Alcocer says:

    In the passage of the Prodigal Son in Luke, where does the son start a “recovery process”?

    • drstoop says:

      I think it would be “when he came to himself” and then changed the direction of his life.

      • Bobby Alcocer says:

        Wouldn’t that be “repentance” after realizing that he had sinned against God and his father? Where in the Bible is the “recovery process” explained or presented clearly?

        • drstoop says:

          I use the word “Recovery” as a synonym for the biblical word “Sanctification.” It’s what happens after repentance.

      • Rose says:

        Your post has moved the debate forrwad. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Trish says:

    I agree with Zulqarnain – the first step would be the hardest for me as well, but it is difficult to hold out for the celebration too. My son is only ten, but I am thinking of this in terms of running a behavior program – you have to be aware that when you first stop reinforcing the behavior, there is going to be an extinction burst, which is painful to watch. But you also have to stay strong and not give the positive reinforcement until the desired behavior occurs, or you have wasted all the effort up to that point and are usually left with worse behavior than when you started, just like Z. said.

    • Bobby Alcocer says:

      Trish, what program are you thinking of running out of the dozens of behavior modification programs out there? Are you willing to test a program on your son and hope that he will come out alright? I just want to point you to the right direction (not just man’s theories). That direction is found in the Bible. Proverbs 22:6, 15: 23:13; 29:15; Ephesians 6:4; Deuteronomy 6:7. I hope you can check these and other passages on how to train up your child God’s way.

      • Trish says:


        Thank you for your concern and for the Scripture references. My son has autism, so in my comment I was generally thinking along the lines and principles of applied behavior analysis. I try to filter every professional’s recommendation through my best understanding of the Scripture and my relationship with the Lord and make decisions based on what seems to be most appropriate for my son as an individual.

        Blessings to you,

        • Dilara says:

          Great article Tye! I have always wondered about the holiness club . When people realize that the only thing that counts in Gods eyes, is your personal relationship with him, they will then realize that everyone is on the same playing field, and none are perfect

    • Zulqarnain says:


  4. Dan says:

    That is SO VERY GOOD Dr. Dave but SO VERYdifficult for parents. We have a 16 year old son that finds school VERY STRESSFUL and overwhelming!!! We have almost had to ask him to leave because of major disrespect, disobedience and destruction. We pray that the upcoming school year will be different after different talks we have had with him during the summer months

  5. jennifer harvey says:

    When a adult child has stolen used and abused not only your immediate family but grandparents uncles aunts and cousiins for the last 10 years when they are trying to help him get back on his feet. . Has stayed in legal trouble and used drugs and betrayed his own mother and she can no longer visit her grandchild because of his behavior. It is hard to know when he is for real or not in his repentance because he has manipulated so much and found Jesus and God when he is in trouble such as jail because he knows that his family wants for him. My son is getting out of jail because he stole over$10,000 from someone trying to helo him and he has no where to go . We are torn because we are scared for him to return home and scared not to.

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