Prodigal In Our Midst

When Young People Leave and Our Role in Their Departure

Istock 450208281 big thumb Istock 450208281 small thumb

Picture this: It’s early Monday morning and an agenda filled with meetings and deadlines awaits you. In the rush of the morning routine, you realized that it has happened again. Your teenager has run away. Suddenly, time sits still and the search to locate your teen takes precedence over everything else. To many parents across the United States, this scenario is all too real.

According to the National Runaway Safeline, between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run away each year. In some cases, leaving home is a matter of survival, as young people escape abusive or aggressive conditions. Adolescents and young adults tend to find comfort and support in peers, especially if they experience emotional disconnect from family members. Poor communication, negative remarks, lack of empathy, and emotional neglect could be just as damaging to a relationship as abuse can be. 

Your kids may not have run away before, but many adolescents in our churches struggle with running away emotionally and spiritually. Spiritual disconnect can occur when rules and expectations become more important than people or relationships. When the children we’ve raised in our congregations mature, many of them tend to run away from church when they see discrepancies between what we preach and how we treat each other.

In her book Testimonies to the Church, Vol. 3, Ellen G. White vividly describes the memorable moment the prodigal son returns home in Luke 15. “He did not array the past course of wrong and sin before his son to make him feel how low he had sunken. The father lifted up his son and kissed him. He took the rebellious son to his chest, and he wrapped his own rich robe about the nearly naked form of his son. He took him to his heart with such warmth, and evinced such compassion, if the son had ever doubted the goodness and love of his father, he could do so no longer.” She continues, “There is too much effort to make them feel where they have erred, and keep reminding them of their error. These who have erred need compassion, they need help, they need sympathy...Above everything else, they need free forgiveness.”

Young people come home when they feel compassion. They want to trust that there is a refuge where they can find comfort and rest from the world’s demands. Listen and learn from your teen; listen attentively; and then, listen some more. They need the assurance that parents will not only provide food and shelter but also time and attention.

In the arduous race called parenting, ask yourself, Twenty years from now, when your children have grown, how would you like to be remembered as a parent? Take a moment, think about it, and then make every possible effort to become that parent. Teens and young adults are embarking on a marvelous road with countless opportunities. Let’s be their supportive guides as they journey towards their destination.

It is a joy to know that our loving Father is attentively looking over the horizon with His arms wide open, awaiting our return! Let’s place our eyes on Jesus and His unfailing promise that one glorious day He will wrap His sanctified robe around us, kiss us with evident compassion and softly whisper in our ear, “Welcome home, my runaway child.”


Carolina Utz is a Marriage and Family Therapist Associate from Fort Worth, Texas. She works with at-risk youth at Tarrant County Juvenile Services and advocates for victims of human trafficking.

More Stories

Send this article to a friend

Flip Through the Record

Reader Survey and Resources

View our Constituency Report

Social Media