The Prodigal Returns—to School

Written by Janet Denison
Published on August 15, 2016

It was my first day to teach school and the other teachers had decided it was best if I figured it out myself. I’m not sure they got that right, but I think God did. I lined up my class to walk them down to the cafeteria and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jason take off and run. I told another teacher and she walked my entire class to the cafeteria while I took off after the “one.”

I was standing at the corner of the cafeteria when Jason rounded the corner. Needless to say, he was shocked to have been caught. He went to see the vice principal on the first day of school. The rest of my class came back from lunch with big eyes. Interestingly, I had a pretty decent year with the child that every other teacher had refused to allow in her class. (Jason had a pretty big reputation so, being the new teacher, I was unaware and unable to suggest he be placed elsewhere.)

I often wonder what happened to Jason. The last day of school he wrapped his arms around me and said goodbye. I never saw him again. Did he go back to his prodigal ways?  Did he get another teacher that prayed for him every day?  Did anyone else notice that he was a lonely kid whose parents dropped him off early and picked him up late?

Jason had everything money could buy and not enough of what money could never buy. I don’t know if Jason found the Lord, but I broke the public school rules and made sure he knew what I thought about Jesus. Prodigals are tricky, and they need someone to care.

Looking back I realize it was a professional mistake to take Jason to the VP on the first day of school. I imagine the man wondered if I was going to be able to maintain control of my class. But, I had been told that if a child was unruly or made dangerous choices, I should get the VP to help. I assumed running off was dangerous, so off to the vice principal I went. Interestingly, I think I made some points with my prodigal. He didn’t expect to be able to get away with too much.

Prodigals can come from every type of home, and every type of parenting. Jason’s parents were great, but they were realtors and sometimes closing the deal came before their child’s needs. But I have also known prodigals that came from an abundance of attention and love. Sometimes prodigals are born, rather than created.

If you are the parent of a prodigal, and almost every child has prodigal moments, there is a quote that I have enjoyed, and agree with. The words were spoken by Vance Havner, a country preacher, with a wise soul. He said, “There is a trend today that would put a new robe on the prodigal son while he is still feeding hogs. Some would put the ring on his finger while he is still in the pigsty. Others would paint the pigsty and advocate bigger and better hogpens.” Vance Havner said those words forty years ago, and they are just as relevant today. Parents have always wanted to believe that their prodigals aren’t.

Prodigals require wisdom, prayer, and resolve. They are usually smart and strong—and need help to learn how to channel their personalities. Parents need to break behaviors without breaking their relationship. The danger with a prodigal is appreciating their strengths without requiring the self-control needed to use those strengths wisely.

Prodigals need to be disciplined at the first sign of dangerous behavior. Try to come up with a discipline that is memorable. Parents want to offer second chances because parents want to believe their child will do better. Pray about those second, third and fourth chances. Sometimes, kids are better off paying a high price, the first time they choose to do what they know is wrong. Some prodigals and some behaviors shouldn’t be allowed a second opportunity.

Pray for wisdom and the strength, to allow your child to experience the consequences of their pigsty. It is normal to want to protect your child, but as Vance Havner said, we don’t want to be decorating a pigsty or rewarding a prodigal; we want better for them. Sometimes having to sling a little slop makes obedience seem like a better idea.

Most children have prodigal moments; some children have prodigal personalities. Hopefully, all prodigals will have parents who will choose to leave them in a pigsty until they “come to their senses.”  No matter how nicely a pigsty is decorated, it is still a smelly mess. Prodigals need to breathe truth and consequence—until they want to come home.

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Janet Denison

Janet Denison teaches others to live an authentic faith through her writing, speaking, and teaching ministry. She blogs weekly at and often at

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