Most mothers who have an adult child with mental illness (MI) and young children share the same fear. Losing a loved one.

Years ago, I asked my second graders to write their worst fear. Most of the eight year old children were afraid of losing a parent. I can relate to that fear. My worst fear is that my son, who has MI, will be missing.

If your child with MI is a prodigal, you may feel that no one understands your pain. But any parent would have some inkling of the trauma you experience every day. Just the thought of losing a child can elicit a gut-wrenching response.

That’s why the news of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370’s disappearance and Washington’s massive mudslide is so riveting. We’re captivated by the mudslide tragedy and follow CNN’s coverage of the missing airplane. Expressions of distraught loved ones convey the horror they feel. Tears seem to bleed disbelief that their loved ones are gone. We shudder to think of them enduring such sudden loss. Any parent, who has lost a child even for a few minutes, can imagine the horror. We can understand their desperation. So we pray for an end to their nightmare.

I experienced the terror of a missing child when Chris was only five. His teacher had chosen me to be one of the chaperones for their field trip to the zoo. As we strolled past all the animals, my hand stayed locked onto Chris’s tiny hand.

We spotted the birds of prey. The northern bald eagle captured my attention. It seemed safe enough to release Chris’s hand for just a second to snap a picture. But I was wrong. While focusing on the eagle, a huge mob of children and parents surrounded us. Chris got swallowed up in the crowd. When he didn’t see me, he thought I’d left him. So he went looking for me.

I took the picture and reached out to grab Chris’s hand. A sea of unfamiliar faces surrounded me. None were Chris’s!

Sheer panic instantly set in. My heart began to pound. I desperately searched for him, screaming his name. “Chris! Chris!”

Tears clouded my vision. Thoughts of what may have happened to him assaulted me.

Please God, please let me find my son.

Miraculously, I spotted him hiding behind a bush. He had been afraid that a stranger might take him. So he hid. My son was safely reunited with me. What relief!

Twelve years later, Chris was missing again. This time it happened during his first psychotic episode.

Chris’s fractured emotions caused him to have mood swings. His negative mood swings usually had a sad or depressed tone. But one week that type of mood swing was distinctly different. Chris seemed very angry and full of rage. It seemed like he wanted revenge. Things quickly escalated.

We were returning home from a trip to the mall. When I pulled into the driveway, Chris stepped out of the car and ran away.

I sprinted into the house to get help. “Howie, Chris is missing!!! Help me find him!” I screamed.

We drove off in different directions. As I searched in our neighborhood, fears tormented me.

This can’t be happening! This is a nightmare. Why didn’t we get him to the hospital? At least he’d be safe there. If he kills himself, he’ll be with the Lord. Oh, I can’t bear to think about that. I’ve GOT to find him.

Praying aloud pacified me enough to hold it together.

“Oh Father, please help us find Chris. Protect him. Guide me. Help me know where to look.”

I decided to stop home to see if he had returned. And found evidence he had come home briefly. Long enough to knock over his brother’s drum set and trombone. He’d also taken a computer off the desk and placed it on the floor.

I hopped back in the car to resume my search. Emptiness filled the pit of my stomach.

How is this ordeal going to end?

Once again I stopped home. A message on our answering machine revealed his location. A neighbor called to say he was there. Chris had been accusing us of abusing him. Thankfully, the neighbor called us and not the police. It must have been evident that Chris wasn’t in his right mind.

Gratitude filled my heart for his safe return. A sense of peace replaced the emptiness in my stomach. But that wasn’t the happy ending. Only brief relief from the chaos of his MI.

The parable of the lost son gives us a picture of a parent’s pain. In the story, the prodigal son came to his senses and returned home. Luke 15:20 hints at the father’s vigil.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

How did the father see his son while he ‘was still a long way off?’ He’d been staring into the distance, scanning the horizon every day hoping for his son’s return. Can you picture him straining his eyes? Spending endless hours peering into the distance? Do you know what he felt?

Many parents don’t know what’s become of their missing child—their vulnerable child who has MI. Can there be any comfort?

During my two experiences, I found comfort in the knowledge that God was with Chris. My heavenly Father knew Chris’s location and had the power to protect him. God also protected me emotionally and mentally. While Chris and I were apart from each other, nothing separated us from God’s love.

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

Steve & Annie Chapman sing of a parent’s prayer when their child is a prodigal.

‘Turn Your Heart Toward Home’

8 thoughts on “Prodigal

  1. Hi Vicki,
    This will be short as not doing well today. Had my HopeKeepers group this am and I love it but it does wear me out. But that’s ok as it’s a huge blessing from God to me.

    I am just asking for ptayers for. Keith as you know it’s been a rough week and it’s continuing. Call tonight very strange as he sounded halfway drunk, and said couldn’t talk, had to go (call had been arranged to see if he had followed thru with health clinic appt. to see if he could get antibuse. Well, i knew right away, something was wrong. The he said a police officer was there. I was sick! Then he said I may have to go to detox. Been there many mnay times. Lady officer came on phone, said no one in house had called and that a psychologist from th clinic had called polce. Never heard of such a thing. You are in the system with clinic and a number. Then she hung up.

    Want to write more again re your devotional but covet your prayers when you have a few minutes. I know you understand.

    May God bless you and hope your friends son is getting some help. Been there, done that, more than once.

    Hugs my friend,


    • Dear Patty,
      I was out most of the day yesterday. So I’m just reading your message now with heartfelt prayers. I do understand. I’m so sorry you’re going through such a rough week that seems to have no ending.
      I’ll continue praying for you throughout my day and night… and onto the next days. If we lived closer, I’d hug you and whisper, “Hold onto the hope you have in Him.”
      In His strength,

  2. There is something I am noticing about myself lately with regards to being a parent of a prodigal. I want to be around other parents that are going through simular circumstances. Whether a prodigal with MI or a drug addiction or some other harmful situation,there seems to be such a bond with those who know the pain and suffering associated with this.. Its a HUGE comfort to us as God brings others into our paths who have gone through or are going through similar circumstances as us.
    He is the God of all comfort ..

    • Dear Cindy,
      “There seems to be such a bond with those who know the pain and suffering associated with this.” How true!
      I feel the same way…I gravitate to others who understand our circumstances. When God brings others into our paths who have lived through our trial, I think it’s His way of assuring us, “You’re not alone. Here’s a messenger to remind you of My faithfulness and love.”
      I love how you ended your message: “He is the God of all comfort.” That would be a great sentence to replay in my mind today – and every day!
      “He is the God of all comfort.”
      “He is the God of all comfort.”
      “He is the God of all comfort.”

  3. Hi Vicki,

    I wished you were here to give me that hug but I will hold onto His strength with you in cyberspace!!

    Talked to Keith today and what a mess. As usual. As a result, he did not get taken to detox but the pych ward where they said if he didn,t say he wanted to hurt himself, they would not admit him. He would not say he wanted to hurt himself. The detox was full and they said he would have to call and make an appointment and then sent him right back home. The mental health care system in this country is a joke, if you ask me. At least here in FL. Now, his health clinic says he is discharged from all health care. He’s been trying to call them for 2 days now and get it straightened out. I feel so powerless, as normal. He was sober this morning, but won’t necessarily stay that way. He has no one there to help him or fight for him.

    So, here I am, feeling so down and with little hope. But this too will pass and His hope and promises will again sustain me.

    And yes, Cindy, there is much comfort in knowing others understand how we feel, the pain we live with and who care about what we go thru with a mentally ill addicted child, in my case. And i, too, am going to repeat “He is the GOD of all COMFORT”!!



  4. Oh Patty,
    You said it well: “The mental health care system in this country is a joke…. what a mess” It never ceases to amaze me that they do things like sending people home and saying things like, “he is discharged from all health care.” They’d never consider turning their backs on people needing medical care for illnesses other than mental illness. No wonder countless moms are left feeling powerless and hopeless. Heavy sigh…
    Thanks for being an inspiration to others…that in the midst of a desperate situation, you can still say, “His hope and promises will again sustain me.”
    It was encouraging to read that Keith’s “been trying to call them for 2 days now and get it straightened out” and that he’s sober this morning.
    By the way, I found a great interview with Max Lucado speaking about despair. Here’s the link:
    I’m going to order his book, “You’ll Get Through This.”
    Signing off with my new closing:
    “He is the God of all comfort”

  5. Hi Vicki,

    Just a short note tonight.

    In reference to your last few sentences, guess what!!

    “You’ll Get Through This” is the first bible study that mt HopeKeepers group has done. Too too funny, not world funny but God’s funny sense of humor and timing that you should find and share with me this bible study out of all the studies and or authors you could have seen. We are now in session 5 in the session guide. We take our time: its a wonderful study. I really wished we could talk on phone different times as there is so much I would like to share and discuss with you that can’t possibly be all typed, at least for me.

    How God works in mysterious and wonderful ways, blows me away as a little fragile human!!

    It won’t be easy, it won’t be quick and it won’t be painless. Words of truth! Words now indelibly printed in my brain when not much else is anymore!

    We are all loving this study. It is hard, with difficult life ?’s and no answers from us, a lot of the time! We muddle thru it but truly believe it is helping us in ways not yet known or seen.

    God’s and my HK group is truly one of the best gifts He has ever given me, I truly believe. We are small but getting to know one another as in only a small group can be accomplished. I like to go deep; its painful, hurtful, scary, uncomfortable, etc and etc. But I like that kind of study; at this point in my life, I have no time for a study that is not going to go deep personally and probe one’s mind, heart and soul.Time is short is my feeling. I believe you will find this study magnifying that “He is truly the God of all comfort”.

    Sorry not short, but all for now. So excited you are getting book; will be great to share thoughts with you.

    Missed Psalm Sunday church today: made me sad.

    Hope you had a good one today!!



    • Hi Patty,
      Sorry for the delay in getting back. I’m feeling more tired than usual…paying for overdoing it. The heat and humidity in our area contributes to my weaker condition. But I’m not complaining—just explaining. So thankful it’s not snow!
      So your Hope Keepers group is doing Max Lucado’s “You’ll Get Through This” Bible study! What a “coincidence!!” Yes, it’s a “God thing.” He surely does work in mysterious and wonderful ways. I’m really looking forward to see what God does in my heart. I agree that going deep is painful, hurtful, scary, and uncomfortable. But the work He does during that deep study yields wonderful spiritual growth. So I’m ready for it.
      Sounds like the size of your group is perfect. People are more inclined to share very personal things in a smaller group. I’m sure you’re building close relationships.
      “He is the God of all comfort”

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