by Sherryl Stone

Have you ever tried to wake up from a nightmare only to find that you were awake? That's how I felt when our "perfect" daughter became a strong-willed, rebellious teen. The transition seemed as quick as switching TV channels. It caught us totally unprepared.

Although we made many mistakes during our five-year ordeal, we learned a lot. As a pastor's family, we faced the added pressure of being the role model for our church on how to handle this situation. Actually, we were clueless. We didn't know to buckle in for what seemed to be a long roller coaster ride in the dark.

We learned many lessons and gained new perspective the hard way. My husband, Charles, and my daughter, Heather, wrote about our adventures in Daughters Gone Wild, Dads Gone Crazy. We certainly don't claim to have all the answers, but I share from the vantage point of living through it and surviving, even in the fish bowl of ministry. Here are a few lessons I learned:

1. We took action, but didnít overreact.

When our daughter began acting out we were initially shocked and then became enraged. Angry words flew that polarized us against her. Unfortunately, our main communication became shouting matches with no winners.

We learned that when a drastic change in behavior occurs in a teen, it is usually a result of some internal pain. Sometimes it's hard to look past your own pain to perceive the pain of your child. Before carrying out consequences for such behavior, we learned to gently probe to find the source of the pain. We were firm but loving. We chose to practice Proverbs 15:1, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." (NIV)

2. We didnít let guilt immobilize and defeat us.

As Christian parents, we first blamed ourselves for Heather's consistent rebellion. We examined our hearts, confessed our faults, and sought Godís forgiveness. We reminded ourselves that God was the perfect parent, but even He had rebellious children. We resisted the urge as parents to point fingers and blame each other. We realized that reaction would undermine our marriage and rob us of emotional energy we needed to deal with the real issues at hand.

3. We intensified the other relationships in our home.

Although Heather, our squeaky wheel, required much of the grease, we didn't put it all there. We discovered prodigal rebellion could create wounds in the family structure. Because our other kids could have become confused and hurt, we looked for opportunities to connect with them.

These trying times put a strain on our marriage. We sought to be there emotionally for each other as much as we could. This was a real challenge when both of us were drained emotionally, but desperately needing each other's support. At times, neither of us had anything to give. I came to understand that this is the point where many marriages start to unravel. I found myself thinking, ďMy husband is not meeting my emotional needs!Ē Anger and resentment threatened to drive a wedge between the two of us.

I chose to treat my husband with kindness and respect. We became quick to apologize when we blew it. There were times during our ordeal when my husband and I related as cordial roommates. We concluded we would be together long after our youngest child left home. We chose to strengthen our relationship by making time for each other. Sometimes something as simple as sitting in a movie theatre together sharing a big bucket of popcorn and a Diet Coke in the dark provided a needed oasis and distraction from the tensions at home. Occasionally we were so drained that our conversation was sparse, but sharing time together in a neutral environment proved refreshing in itself.

One part of parenting a prodigal that added extra angst was the fact that we are a Christian family, and on top of that, a pastorís family. There is an expectation of being a role model to the church in all things spiritual and relational. Hadnít we done everything to the best of our abilities and in the power of the Holy Spirit in raising our children? By her foolish choices, Heather had smashed our credibility as parents. How could God allow this to happen especially in a ministerís family?

At times, I struggled with my faith through those difficult years. Some days the struggle was harder than others but the Lord brought me through. Over time, I was able to see more clearly our daughterís adolescent rebellion and my own spiritual journey through Godís perspective.

I learned to cling to my faith. Until I experienced our prodigal's rebellion, this phrase seemed trite. Satan tempted us to doubt that the Lord was working on our behalf. When this temptation was greatest I asked myself how giving up on my faith would make things better. I realized it would only make things worse.

Isaiah 7:9 really impacted me: "If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all." In light of the Lord's past faithfulness, I determined to stand firm.

I grew in my faith as I drew upon His provision of love, patience and endurance in a way I had never known. As I surrendered myself, my family, and my circumstances to His will, the Lord began to change me.

I gained a new perspective concerning my own sin. The pain and disappointment I felt as a parent made me wonder if this was a glimpse of how the Lord felt toward me when I rebelled against Him.

I learned to love supernaturally. Most people consider me a loving person. I did, too, until the love for my own daughter almost ran dry. Because Heather hurt me so deeply, I wanted to withdraw from her emotionally to protect myself. I cried to the Lord, "I can't love her. I don't have any more love to give!" Romans 5:5 began to transform my mind and my heart. It says, "... and hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.Ē When I began to open my heart to His love for my daughter, supernatural love began to trickle, and later flow through the hardened places of my heart. As I yielded myself to the Holy Spirit's control, He met me in my pain and helped me see Heather through His eyes and love her with His heart.

I held tightly to hope. As weeks gave way to months and then years, I began to question if things would ever change. Counseling sessions, rehab, boot camp, hospital stays. You name it. We tried it. Things would improve for a while and then they'd bottom out. Discouragement and despair weighed heavily on me. In my Bible reading, I came across this verse. "I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" (Psalm 27:13).

I had to remind myself that with the Lord there is hope. In fact, Romans 15:13 refers to the Father as the "God of Hope." When it seemed like there was no hope, the Lord gave me this breath of fresh air. His word says, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."

I asked some trusted friends to pray that godly hope would permeate my heart and soul. I gradually experienced what I came to call a "faith transfusion" concerning Heather. Hope flowed as I chose to fix my eyes on the God of hope and move forward in faith, trusting Him every step of the way.

The prodigal years, though some of the most difficult times in my life, proved to be a rich training ground in faith, love and hope.

If you care to contact Sherryl, you can do so at
Sherryl has co-authored a chapter in her husband's newest book Five Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them by Charles Stone. Sherryl's chapter relates experiences as a pastor's wife.

Editor's Note: We recommend an excellent book, Relief for Hurting Parents by Buddy Scott, order it directly from Allon Publishing Co. 800-288-6333.

Research the web, there are various websites under Praying for Prodigals. CBD (our partner on-line book store) carries several pages of helpful books relating to prodigals.