Few things bring sorrow and break hearts like dealing with wayward people—people who have determined they will pursue their sin, that they will reject their roles, forsake their promises, ignore their counsellors. When dealing with such people we need to ask, what is the mindset, the worldview, the value system of a wayward man or woman? Dave Harvey and Paul Gilbert look deep into the wayward heart in their book Letting Go. They offer three answers for what the wayward wants and these answers tell why it is so difficult to reason with them, why it requires such grace for them to return from their sin.
The wayward wants choices without consequence. The wayward is the fool who is so aptly and repeatedly described in the book of Proverbs—the fool who is convinced he can make bad choices without bad consequence. “Foolish people living in rebellion roll through life like they have a free pass, a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card that springs them from consequences. They are constantly dodging natural repercussions of poor decisions. They follow a risky path, expecting to be bailed out by someone, no matter what black hole they are being sucked into.” They want freedom, but a particular, ridiculous kind of freedom—the freedom to choose whatever they want but without the negative consequences that ought to accompany such a poor choice.
The wayward wants autonomy without accountability. Wayward people want autonomy without the rule of love. They want to live in an irrational immaturity that allows them to indulge in sin without any responsibility. “For prodigals, maturity means indulging in freedoms, not accepting responsibility. The freedom they want is entirely on their terms. They expect money, liberty, rights, and privileges without standing accountable for what they do with these blessings. They want their dream without any reality crowding in.” Not surprisingly, this results in nothing short of devastation and disaster.
The wayward wants leaving without loss. Wayward people want to stray from God-given roles and responsibilities or solemn promises while expecting that everything else in their lives will remain the same. They want to change toward other people even while other people remain unchanged toward them. “When prodigals perceive that they can wander without the threat of loss, their hunger for sin is fed. This may sound crazy, but in their world, it all makes complete sense. They will do whatever they must to get what they want. That’s the nature of our sin—it is irrational, out of touch with reality.” They want to leave but without the uncomfortable feeling of loss.
Why is it important to know what the wayward wants? Because “to reach the prodigal, you must first crawl into the story of the prodigal.” It is an ugly story, but one God so often delights in ending with the prodigal returning to all that was once his.