Prayers for prodigal son

Is God Good?

Can we say “God is Good” even when we see our children suffering?

God used my son to deepen my family’s faith and teach us about the goodness of God. Here’s our story…

“IT’S A BOY!” After having two girls, Shane, our third child of four, was born in Asia where we lived and served as missionaries. We had prayed for all of our kids even before they were conceived. Now we were excited for our boy! Shane was a congenial, fun, bright child. He brought much joy to our hearts.

Our family returned to the U.S. when Shane was five. When he was nine, we moved again, from Virginia to Pennsylvania. He did well in both homeschooling and formal school settings, until he reached middle school. That is when things started to change. By 7th grade, we were told Shane was not applying himself. His grades were dropping.

Christian family prays for prodigal son

The O’Neill Family

Shane had always made good grades, but we realized that because he was smart, he had things easy up until now. The study habits he should have been acquiring in elementary school were somehow overlooked by us and his earlier teachers. We were unaware of the anxiety this was causing Shane.

He also started to pull away from me, his mom, demanding more independence. This was hard. We had always been close. But we also knew this was part of growing up.

To control his anxiety, Shane was also beginning to use the world to hide.

We started catching our son smoking and watching pornography. My husband and I soon became aware of Shane trying to divide-and-conquer. Being relational and good with his words, he often used his charm to get what he wanted. Amazingly, this gift of words is what God would use later in Shane’s life to redeem and bring glory to Himself.

By 8th grade, we received a call from a pastor friend that Shane and his son were at a classmate’s home where they got drunk and lost consciousness. The Christian school they attended found out and suspended the two boys. We were catching Shane more and more in lies, too. He really wanted to please us, but he also desired the things of the world.

the challenges of a sibling who is hurting

Shane and siblings

In one of Shane’s journals, we found poems revealing his heart. Shane’s giftedness at writing began to show, but in sharing his thoughts on paper, we saw dark, hopeless words. His school principal encouraged us by saying, “It is the kids you don’t know what’s going on inside that scare me because once they go off to college, they often start down a path of curiosity and the parents are not always around to guide them.“

Shane soon asked to attend public school. I was afraid, but my husband said, “Are we enabling Shane? Maybe he needs to get out into the world, to experience life a little beyond the shelter of the proverbial Christian bubble.” As I read the sad prodigal story, I saw the Father let his son go. Someone also prompted my heart by asking, “Is the same God we trust in the Christian private school not also in the public school?” Could I let Shane go like the prodigal Father? Shane also began asking some tough questions about his faith. My heart began to grieve.

As he moved toward more and more unwise choices, doubts as a good mom entered, feelings of failure, or how can I fix what’s going on?

I had a small group of friends praying. But being a parent of a prodigal left me lonely, vulnerable and often afraid. There were a lot of unknowns. Perhaps you can relate. “We are in ministry. What will people think?” People had their opinions which made me cautious to share with others. Friends started to pull away out of fear for their own children being associated with Shane.

You know the child you raised is sweet and knows better, and you can’t help but ask, “Aren’t they in there somewhere? What happened? Where’s my boy?” You don’t want to lose them. And you don’t want others looking at them differently, either.

Everything I did seemed to backfire. My faith and prayers were being challenged. “Is God good?” “Am I falling away to peer pressure?” “How do I continue to love and pray?” Being reminded only God can change the heart, I moved toward taking care of my own soul and responses, first. Then, I needed to understand Shane’s questions, not as an affront to me, but rather core questions of his own heart with God. God loves Shane even more than I do! What a beautiful truth that is often so hard to believe.

“…he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…” Philippians 1:6

Furthermore, in the spring of 8th grade, within a four-month span, Shane experienced four traumas in his life. We all felt it, but these events affected him especially. It sent him into depression and birthed inside him a deep anger toward God.

Four family members died suddenly, and his “girlfriend” was assaulted. Our hearts bled for Shane. We realized then, the spiritual battle going on. The fight was intense for our son’s heart.

This is when I was introduced to Moms in Prayer; I found a group in my area. And through them, I encountered real support. Every week I was drawn back to God’s goodness.

“…No good thing does he (God) withhold from those who walk uprightly… blessed is the one who trusts in you!” (From Psalm 84:11-12) God is bigger than anything happening. He is in the business of transforming hearts, even our prodigal kids. He sees and knows all, and we are not alone.

I felt like I had a safe place each week to sit with moms who understood. We could go to God and his Word together, to pray for our kids. Praying specifically for my son, and not generally, I began to see small prayers answered, giving me hope that God wasn’t yet finished with Shane. Understanding that my son was just finding his way to God, I also wondered where God would use him in the days to come. I just had to sit at the Father’s feet and wait.

God used our son to deepen our faith about God’s goodness. When I didn’t have answers to Shane’s many questions about God I would say, “I don’t know Shane. All I know is that God is good.”

Shane got worse before he got better. Then, when he was 19, he said that God came to him in a dream. God met him where he was. In that dream, Shane was shown God’s heart. He saw that God was truly a loving God, full of compassion. Afterwards, Shane desperately wanted to know God and thought, “If I go home to mom and dad, I can find God’s love.”

When he arrived home, we saw needle marks on Shane’s arms! What a shock! Over time, with Shane’s new desire to receive God’s love and goodness and with our support, he detoxed. Not only has he been drug free for 11 years, his life has been redeemed.

Where has Shane’s story of faith taken him today? He prays for his generation.

He is the editor of a sexual integrity organization, Proven Ministries ( He writes and records podcasts. He often ends his talks with his interviewees with, “How can we pray for you?”

Hope for my prodigal son, a bright future

Shane and his fiancée Kaylee

The more I understand God’s grace in my life and see God working, I can extend it to others. I need to continue to experience Jesus’ goodness and love as much as my kids and grandkids do. GOD IS GOOD! There are Moms in Prayer groups for grandmothers too, where we can continue to pray for the next generation.

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Sterling O'Neill Moms in PrayerSterling O’Neill is a southern girl from South Carolina who has lived in both the U.S. and abroad, making her a global citizen! She has been married to her best friend and partner in ministry for more than 40 years. They have 4 adult children, 3 sons- in-law, 1 soon to be daughter-in- law, and 5 grandchildren. Sterling is a certified Life Coach and loves people, intercessory prayer, writing, consulting, training, creating, and tennis among other things. She has the privilege in this season to travel and work alongside her husband with NEXTGEN , assisting young leaders in their preparation for God’s global Kingdom assignment.

Comments 27

  1. Thank you for your post. I have been leading a mom’s in prayer group for about a year and a half and before I was part of one for many years praying since my daughter was little. During the pandemic things changed and she got angry and rebellious. Now she is a teen who has gone through so much. I can’t even say all of the things that had happened to her and I continue to pray and trust God. She wants to leave her home because of our Faith, she doesn’t want to believe in God. She wants to go far with her biological father who is against God and will not be a good influence but I have to let her go. I am praying for my daughter Bella to come to Jesus and realize that God is real and He loves her so much. I believe that she will be touched by God in mighty ways and I believe Bella someday will worship Jesus with all her heart. She has a talent with her voice and I pray God uses it for His Kingdom. Amen

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      Hello Ines, Thank you for your comment. I’m sorry that you’re going through some difficult times with your daughter. I will pray for Bella today and for you. The scripture verses that come to mind: May Bella know the height, the width, the depth and the length of God’s love for her and be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:18-19). May the Lord comfort your heart, Ines, and strengthen you to stand firm in the truth. God bless you!

  2. Wow, I felt such a connection reading your testimony. My son is going through such similar things. He is also dealing with having type 1 diabetes and has a newborn at 20 years old. He smokes, has entangled himself with a not so great crowd, and uses his gift of words for worldly music. But I still have faith and your story is so encouraging. I hope that he too has an encounter with God soon. Please pray for him as he seems to attract the attention of the police and has already bailed out 3 times…..His name is always put in his friends situations, he is impatient, and he isn’t making wise decisions.

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      Hello Denise, Thank you for your comment. I’m so glad this encouraged you. I will pray for your son today. I’m sorry that you are going through this. I will also forward your message to Sterling. May God bless you and comfort you.

    2. Dear Denise,

      I was also touched by you and your story and felt the connection. Good to know that God has taken my son’s story and touched your heart in this season of life with your son. This is just the way God works. He is good! I am thankful that God has used it to encourage you. You are not walking alone. I just lifted your son up to the Lord. I pray that God will bring others into his life that love him and draw him to Christ and that he, too, will have that encounter with God soon. May it be so Lord! May his story one day bless many. Sterling

  3. Please pray for me an my son…Timothy.. he is 32 years old…I also have a son that is 19. My son Timothy lived at home until he just got so combative I had to ask him to leave…after a year of living with his grandmother, girl friend and taking off to live in Arizona he did ask to come back home…I gladly said yes, thinking things would be different….while he was out in Arizona, I signed him up for an apartment waiting list just in case he decided one day to come back….when he returned his name came up and though I sensed the hesitation with him moving, he did and it is a beautiful place.

    When Timothy returned home the 1st month was good, he was talking, interacting with us etc…then I noticed how he would start to retreat to his room and not engage with us hardly at all…and if I went to his room to talk to him he would find a reason that he needed me to leave….

    I helped him move, bought him things to get him started in his new place…then I noticed that everything I bought was not good enough…so I stopped, then when I went there it was like I wasnt really welcomed….then it went to he just would not come by our house, we weren’t invited there and he would not talk calls or call. So now I have not physically seen him or talked to him in about 5 months and he lives 5 minutes away…(this is his wish) when he left before he would at least keep in touch with his brother but the whole time he was gone before…he would not take my call or call me….

    Though it hurts…I have tried everything and really just have to believe and trust GOD…

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      Hello Michelle, I’m so sorry that you are going through this difficult time with your son Timothy. I prayed for you and Timothy and your family. “Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
      my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.” Psalm 62:5 Are you part of a Moms in Prayer group? See what local groups are in your area here: Sisters in Christ come alongside you to pray with you for your sons. May God comfort and strengthen you Michelle.

    2. Michelle, sorry I am just responding to you. I have had you on my mind several times and prayed but life swept me away and I never took time to actually write you. Please forgive me.

      Thank you for sharing your story. God knows the love you have shown your son and the pain of all you have invested then not knowing the reason your son has rejected the love extended to him.

      We often do not know all that is going on in our children’s hearts when they make these choices. The best thing we can do is pray for them. As Sue said, finding a “Moms in Prayer “ group in your area, having other moms alongside us in the journey who we can pray with and not feel alone, will encourage you and remind you of the hope we have in God.

      I just prayed For Timothy again on your behalf as so many prayed for my son.
      May God bring someone into his life where he can open up and be drawn to see his need for God and the love he has back home. May his heart turn to you. May God give you extra grace and strength in this season as you wait upon Him. Psalm 27:14.

      God is good and loves you and your son.

      God bless, Sterling

  4. Thank you for sharing your story, Sterling. I needed to hear it…today…as one of my two prodigals hit us with some news 2 days ago that looks impossible for us to navigate as a family.
    Being a former Moms In Touch leader at their elementary school years ago, I came to the website today seeking the encouragement of fellow praying moms. Wow! Once again, God is so faithful to provide just what I need to keep me hanging onto his promises. I don’t know just how He will do it, but I believe God will bring good I cannot imagine out of this current heartbreak. This is a difficult and lonely season for this mom of young adults, but God provides!

    1. Christie.

      Just like our God of encouragement to
      Meet us right where we are. I hear your heart of love for God and your kids and pain. So sorry to hear when our kids make choices that grieve us because we know it grieves God more. It shows the deep love you have for your kids.

      ” May Lord she sense YOUR presence and strength at this time as she leans upon Him. May YOU, God give her and her family wisdom to know how to love and handle this situation. God she needs your hope as she waits upon you Lord. YOU said you are the God of Hope who gives joy and peace as we trust in YOU and may God she overflow with hope by the power of Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13. What YOU God have begun in the hearts of these young people and especially in the heart of the one who shared and Christie just heard about, may You continue to work in his heart Lord. May we not give up hope. God we know and trust you are working. We do not understand or always have answers. This is too big for her LORD and she needs you. So LORD, may she acknowledge You to work in ways she cannot. You love these young adults more than she does. Help her to love her children in new ways where they can see your love through her. Help her to know what to say and when, and when to be silent. Lead them to know what to do. Help them to rest in you. Lord, bring others around them too Lord, to encourage them and know you are there. Bring people into their children’s lives, to speak in ways they cannot that will draw them to you. You are Good Lord and want what’s Good. Turn their hearts toward you and redeem this situation. Protect and watch over them. May she find ways to be strong, and courageous, not give way to fear, or discouragement/or be dismayed , knowing you are always there, Lord. (Josh. 1:8) Once again we lift these two young adults up to you, Lord. Thank you Jesus, In Jesus’ name Amen.

      1. Thank you for this. I stumbled across this link tonight while searching for books, guidance…anything to help me deal with the heartbreak of my son who has turned from his faith and found himself in trouble. It’s comforting to know other mom’s share in similar pain and that there are others who can lray for us when we feel like we can’t pray in the moment. I’m thankful for your story.

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          Hello Amy, Thank you for your comment. I will forward this to Sterling. I will also pray for you and for your son today. Very thankful that this blog encouraged you. My daughter was very rebellious in her middle school years. I was invited to a Moms in Prayer group and started praying with other moms whose kids went to the same school. God truly transformed her heart. To request to join a group in your local area, go to: God bless you Amy.

        2. Dear Anne.

          Just read your comment about your son and praying for you and for him right now. Thankful God has used my story to speak to you and encourage you. Not an easy journey and is heartbreaking. It shows your love for your son.

          May God continue to encourage your heart at this time to know he loves our children more than we do. May You sense His love for you and peace as you walk this journey. May He help you to see Him and how He sees your son and give you ways to love him in ways you haven’t and your son will see Jesus. May His heart be drawn to Jesus and turn back to Him. May God bring people along to support you and love your son in ways you cannot at this time. May you have patience to know God is at work and not finished with your child and will use all for His glory and good, for God is good.

          Anne, I pray also that you are able to find a Moms in prayer group in your area as Sue mentioned. At this time we need Jesus more and our children do too. Prayer with others taking us to Jesus helps keep our hearts where they need to be and it’s encouraging knowing others are praying and we can pray with them. May you not have to walk alone and may others be able to come alongside you too.

          One book I read may or may not encourage you but I pass it along as another couple walking with us in this season. It’s an older book but they now have an updated version. “Come back Barbara”. By John Miller. Another way to express our heart to God and not feel alone. Realizing and reminding us God is working even when we do not think He is.

          God bless. Sterling.

  5. I so appreciate the post on Is God Good! I have 4 prodigals out of 10 children. It breaks my heart as I have cried many tears. It gives me hope that there are other moms as well with prodigals. Especially, when a prodigal comes back home to the Father!

    1. Sherry, Thank you for reading the article. As I read your note with 4 prodigals out of 10 children. And the tears you have shed for them. Your love is evident. Definitely other moms as well with prodigals and you are not alone. But it feels like it because they are your children and you love them so much, and greive over the choses they often make. Continue to encourage Sherry.
      I lift your children up to the Lord right now, that they will one day run back to their Father too. Lord we ask and believe as you know Sherry’s tossing and turning, and are putting her tears in your bottle, we can be assure you hear and see her heart and words prayed over her children. Psalm 56:8. You love her too. As you gave your only son for us, we know your love for us and our children. May you reach down now and touch them in a very special way and may they be drawn to you right now Lord. Jesus Name, Amen.

  6. Thank you so much for this. I am going through the same season. My oldest daughter started to change in 7th, anxiety depression, trauma. Smoking weed. She was raised up in God but now has this anger toward him. I felt like all my efforts would back fire. Now I just pray continually and fervently. I have been praying that God give her dreams. This story comforter me so much. Please pray for my daughter Mya (My-ya)

    1. Stacey,

      I just prayed for Mya. Thanks for sharing your story with us too. So glad God has used it to encourage your heart in this season with your daughter. May God continue to show himself to you as you lean on him and give Mya to Him.

      God you know Stacey’s heart, please come alongside her with her daughter and meet Mya where she is. You love both Stacey and Mya, Lord. We don’t know what Mya is going through but you do Lord. May you interveen on her behalf and release these strongholds and may you reveal to those who love her what is really is going on inside of her and may she see your love Lord and come back to you, too, Lord. Draw Mya to you in a way where she will hear and listen. In Jesus name Amen.

    1. Kathy.
      God is Good so I want to to encourage others through my God story but sharing is not always easy and sharing it so openly. God used Moms in Prayer much in my life so if I can give back the blessing paying forward to other moms to impact them in their battles with their kids to encourage them to keep leaning on Jesus, I feel it a privilege to do so. Thanks for your encouraging words along the way in telling my story. God bless you.

  7. Dear O’Neil family,
    Thank you for sharing your story. I am the mom of four prodigals. One still says he believes, and I am sure he does, but I do not see much fruit. I have one left at home. He challenges what I believe almost daily. When you described your thoughts and feelings it was as if you were me. I have wept, wanted to give up, continued in prayer, and out of desperation found MIP. As a leader I still feel like I don’t know what I am doing and that I constantly get in the way of the Spirit, but this is a walk not a sprint. I too hold on to glimpses of hope. My faith is tested. It is hard for my son, too. This is not the path I would have chosen, but it doesn’t change that God is good. My heart feels like it is bandaged together as I face each day and try to love with a Jesus kind of love. Thank you for being brave and sharing your story. God is bigger than this mountain for sure.

    1. Laura,

      If I was sitting next you having a cup of coffee with you, I would be having tears in my eyes as I listen to your story. I would reach over and hug you. You are precious and courteous. Finding your strength in Him. Your love for your kids show through your words. Thanks for sharing your heart and story too and encouraging words of me sharing mine. May God continue to encourage you. Knowing you are in the middle of the battle know My heart and prayers are with you. He is our hope and Rock and will meet you where you are. I hear in your words that hope and the gift of moms in prayer community and prayers for your own heart. God is good and may he give you wisdom to continue to know how to love them with His love. May He bring others around your children to do the same. God please open their heart to hear you and see you. May we never give up hope because you are the God of Hope. God bless. Sterling

  8. Thank you for sharing your story, Sterling. And please thank Shane for allowing the Lord to use this testimony to shine His light into dark places. Miracles are happening all around us as our ABBA Father sets the captives free. Your family is an inspiration.

    1. Jane.

      Thank you for your many prayers for Shane over the years and reaching out to him in many different ways.

      Shane has given me permission to share my story which is very much his too. Thankful God redeems the brokenness of this world and puts us back together and often makes it even better than we could imagine. May look different than we thought or took a different path than we thought . But God is good and each person has their various path He is asking us to take. He promises to walk and be with us. Never know if Our children will turn back to Him. However, May we never lose hope and keep praying for them. May we continue to consider how to encourage one another unto love and good deeds. Not always easy but Yes, may Shane’s story and journey continue to be a light to that hope for many.

      Thank you for encouraging me in the process to write my story for Moms in prayer.

  9. My dear Sterling, so proud of the fortitude you demonstrated in some dark places. God met us there. Your faith even in doubt has brought the beauty of light to life. Shane walks as a wonderful testimony to your prayers. God bless Moms in Prayer for walking with Sterling when the light was too dim to see well. May God bless and increase your movement manifold. Many lonely moms draw strength from your persistent prayers. God bless you. Jim ONeill

    1. Jim. We walked life together. Thankful for you. Thank you for your kind words.
      Thankful for Moms in Prayer walking with us too.

  10. Thank you my dear friend, Sterling, for this precious testimony of your journey in faith as you struggled in some deep waters in your concern for beloved Shane! I so remember some of those days and our opportunities to share together. This was wonderful! God bless you and all your family as they walk in faith and as the fruit of years of praying becomes more and more evident. Oh Lord, continue to show us your glorious deeds and establish the works or our hands for us we pray!

    1. Martha. Great to see your name pop up. Your face and prayers are forever etched in my memories. You were faithful in praying for us and kept telling me about Moms in Prayer. I finally listened and what a blessing as I mentioned in the article. I am very thankful for people like you that came around us and prayed on behalf of our Shane. God is Good.

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