Understanding the Wayward Child
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Understanding the Wayward Child

Children are a blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3). As parents, we have the responsibility to train them up in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6). However, sometimes children can stray from the godly path we have set out for them. What does it mean to have a wayward child? How should Christian parents respond?

In this post, we will explore the meaning of a wayward child and how to handle this difficult situation biblically.

Key Takeaways:

  • A wayward child is one who rebels against parental authority and strays from godly living.
  • Waywardness often stems from unresolved issues in the child’s heart that lead to foolish behavior.
  • As Christian parents, we must look first at our own hearts and walk with God.
  • Loving discipline, prayer, God’s word, and unconditional love are key in dealing with a wayward child.
  • Restoration must balance grace and truth, justice and mercy.
  • Ultimately, we must trust God with our prodigal children and rely on Him to work in their hearts.

What Does It Mean to Have a Wayward Child?

A wayward child is one who goes astray from the godly training and instruction of their parents (Proverbs 22:15). The word “wayward” means willful, headstrong, and disobedient. A wayward son or daughter is one who stubbornly pursues their own path in life, rejecting parental authority and wise counsel.

This rebellion can take many forms – it may involve rejecting the Christian faith and values they were raised with. It could include making destructive decisions that go against godly principles like drinking, drug use, sexual immorality, or criminal activity. Often, wayward kids gravitate towards peers who enable and encourage their poor choices. A key hallmark of a wayward child is that they are acting out of stubbornness and immaturity rather than a sincere belief that their path is right.

As Proverbs 7:7 describes it, “I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man devoid of understanding.” Despite their parents’ best efforts to guide them towards wisdom, they continue to make foolish choices that ultimately lead to pain and destruction.

Common Causes of Waywardness

While each situation is unique, there are some common root issues that can contribute to a child becoming wayward:

Unresolved heart issues

Many times, wayward behavior reflects unresolved problems in the child’s heart that lead to unhealthy responses. There may be bitterness, insecurity, anger, or jealousy that causes them to act out (Hebrews 12:15). They may use rebellion as a means to exert control or get attention for emotional needs that do not feel met. These heart matters need to be delicately addressed.

Desire for independence

There is a natural desire in teens and young adults to establish their own identity and make their own decisions. However, immaturity and lack of wisdom can lead them to foolishly reject all guidance in favor of total autonomy.

Negative influence of peers

Peer pressure is a powerful force – the influence of friends who mock godly values can sway young people to turn away from truth (1 Corinthians 15:33). When their closest relationships are with those who enable sinful choices, it encourages waywardness.

Distorted view of freedom

Our culture glamorizes an “anything goes” approach to life. This distorted idea of freedom appeals to an immature desire for independence at any cost. Teens may buy into the lie that throwing off restraint is the path to happiness and fulfillment.

Lack of understanding

Some young people stray simply because they do not have a personal understanding of God and His ways. They have been told what to do but may not grasp why God’s path is best. Their faith has not taken root in their hearts. Then when temptation comes, they lack discernment.

Biblical Stories of Wayward Children

Several prominent biblical figures dealt with the pain of a wayward child. Their stories give us insight into how God views this issue and how to respond righteously as parents.

The Prodigal Son

In Luke 15, Jesus tells the parable of a father with two sons. The younger son demands his inheritance early, leaves home, and squanders it all through reckless living. Finally hitting rock bottom, he returns home hoping to be treated as a servant. But the father runs to embrace the prodigal son, overjoyed at his return. He extends full forgiveness and restores the young man as a beloved child.

This story reminds us that God’s heart is always to welcome back the wayward with open and forgiving arms when they repent and return (Luke 15:20-24).

David and Absalom

King David faced heartbreak when his son Absalom led a violent rebellion against him. Despite David’s pleas for mercy, Absalom was eventually killed in battle, leaving David devastated (2 Samuel 18:33). Yet even in Absalom’s treason, David longed to see his son restored.

David’s response shows the tension between justice for wrongdoing, and the enduring love of a grieving parent. It reminds us not to compromise truth, yet cling to hope.

The Persistent Widow

In a parable, Jesus told of a widow who repeatedly pled with an unjust judge to rule in her favor (Luke 18:1-8). Though indifferent, the judge finally granted her request just to be rid of her. Jesus concludes: if persistence swayed this godless judge, how much more will God respond to His children’s cries?

This encourages parents not to grow weary pleading in prayer and faith for prodigal children. Our persistence reflects the heart of God.

Wise Parenting in Light of Waywardness

How then should Christian parents respond when a child becomes wayward? It is natural to react in anger, judgment or detachment. However, Scripture guides us to a more wise and redemptive approach.

Look first at your own walk with God

When facing disobedience or rebellion, our first response should not be to blame the child but to examine our own hearts before God. Are we modeling a vibrant faith and godly character? Have we built a strong relationship where they feel free to share their struggles? Do they see us living out what we preach? The logs in our own eyes must be addressed before we try to deal with the speck in their eye (Matthew 7:5). Sincere repentance may spark change.

Pray earnestly

Like the persistent widow, we must cry out to God on their behalf. Storm the heavens with prayer and fasting rather than railing at the child (Mark 9:29). Plead for God to intervene and woo their hearts. He alone can impart revelation of spiritual truth. Our prayers also protect our own hearts from bitterness (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Speak God’s Word

Along with prayer, continue appealing to them with scriptural truth. God’s word is powerful and effective for convicting and instructing when a child strays (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Remind them of God’s principles and promises. But share with gentleness and respect, not a sanctimonious spirit.

Exercise wise discipline

Discipline must be part of training a child, and rebellion should have consequences (Proverbs 13:24). However, punish rashly and we may provoke them to further rebellion. Discipline in love, justice and mercy, not anger. Sometimes, allowing natural consequences to play out teaches them far more than our lectures can. Our goal is restoration, not vindication.

Extend unconditional love

While hating sin, we must love the sinner unconditionally as God loves us. They should never doubt our unwavering affection even in disagreement. This provides a safe context for change. Grace must balance truth as we hold them accountable. Our relationship should be a lifeline drawing them back when they realize their folly.

Trust God’s timing and process

Transformation happens on God’s timetable, not ours. Release the child into God’s hands. He remains at work even when we can’t see it. Walk in faith knowing that just as God pursues us, He is relentlessly pursuing your wayward child. No situation is beyond His reach. His perfect love holds the power to melt even hardened hearts.

What Does Biblical Restoration Look Like?

Our ultimate desire as parents should be to see the wayward child restored to wisdom and right relationship with God. But what does true biblical restoration look like in a practical sense?


The first step is that the child comes to a place of genuine repentance, fully owning their waywardness as sin and rebellion against God. They must humbly take responsibility rather than make excuses. As the prodigal son confessed, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you” (Luke 15:18). This heart posture opens the door for healing.


Next, relationships need mending. They should seek forgiveness where trust has been broken, making amends for damages. Most crucially, reconciliation with God is needed. But also, open communication should happen with parents to address any issues affecting the relationship.

Changed heart

Along with their actions, their underlying heart motives must change by God’s Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26). The fruit of the Spirit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and self-control will begin to grow. For young men, 1 Timothy 4:12 offers a great picture of maturity: “set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and purity.”

Established habits

Lasting change requires establishing new habits and disciplines to sustain growth. This may mean replacing unhelpful friends and influences with wise mentors. It will certainly include practicing spiritual disciplines to nurture intimacy with God. When the inner person is transformed, the outward life will follow.

Amends and restitution

Where possible, the wayward child should seek to make amends for any hurts or damages they have caused, making restitution where feasible. They should ask forgiveness from anyone impacted – parents, family, authorities or those in the community. This sets their feet on the path back to honorable living.

Most importantly, full restoration means embracing their identity in Christ and stewarding their lives well for His purposes. The pain of their wayward season is redeemed to become a testimony of God’s amazing grace.

Conclusion: God Gives Us Hope

Seeing a beloved child stray from the faith is one of the most anguishing trials imaginable. In those seasons, we can find great encouragement by looking at God’s unfailing love for us, even when we were lost in sin and rebellion. Paul reminds us in Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Just as God relentlessly pursued us, so He desires to restore our wayward sons and daughters to Himself.

By clinging close to Him in prayer, saturating our homes in His word, and keeping arms open in unconditional love, we posture our families for redemption. Though discipline may be needed, and consequences may come, we must never give up hope that God can resurrect the dead places in our child’s heart. His perfect love is able to melt even the most stubborn resistance. He delights to take the messiest scenarios and turn them into testimonies of His surpassing grace.

So take heart parents. Release your prodigal, brokenhearted, into the hands of our Father. Allow Him to work powerfully in your child’s heart. And let Him fill your own heart afresh with His supernatural peace, joy and faith as you wait expectantly for the day of restoration. Our God specializes in Prodigal Comebacks.

Pastor Duke Taber
Pastor Duke Taber

Pastor Duke Taber

All articles have been written or reviewed by Pastor Duke Taber.
Pastor Duke Taber is an alumnus of Life Pacific University and Multnomah Biblical Seminary.
He has been in pastoral ministry since 1988.
Today he is the owner and managing editor of 3 successful Christian websites that support missionaries around the world.
He is currently starting a brand new church in Mesquite NV called Mesquite Worship Center, a Non-Denominational Spirit Filled Christian church in Mesquite Nevada.