“I’d lived for many years with a mask on at church and was very good at putting up a front.” – JoAnn Petrosino
“God had to use a megaphone to let me know that something was wrong,” said Andy Petrosino. “I was not a role model my family could respect. I measured success by how well my wife and two sons were doing. My family wasn’t truly loved by me because I was not receiving God’s love. I pursued happiness and peace at all cost at home.”
Working 70 hours a week, Andy depended on JoAnn to raise the boys and take care of the house. At home he was an authoritarian figure rather than a husband and dad. The Bronx, New York home he was raised in was very much the same. “There was little discussion or emotional love,” said Andy. “I repeated many of those patterns in our home.”
When Andy moved to Dallas, he met a Brooklyn girl named JoAnn. Both were new Christians and attended the same Bible study. From the day they married in 1973, it was difficult for them to resolve conflict.
“I wanted to be a good husband and later, a good father,” said Andy “But I was a Pharisee at heart. We wanted our boys to experience the salvation of Christ, but we didn’t know how to guide them. I was better at keeping and enforcing the rules.”
“Our theology was straight, but we didn’t have community,” said JoAnn. “We knew Scripture, but we did not apply it to parenting. I got very good at making sure things looked good on the outside. But as our family drifted apart, I cried out on the inside for God’s help.”
When their sons entered into a season of rebellion, a cycle of enabling, fixing, rescuing and despair became the focus of the Petrosino’s life. “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put our family together again,” said Andy. “We were in a vicious cycle, and it became our idol.”
During a difficult family crisis, the police were called to the Petrosino’s home. A young policeman suggested that JoAnn and Andy visit The Prodigal, a Watermark ministry for families in crisis. They attended the next meeting.
They expected to receive a list of parenting dos and don’ts, but what they experienced at the Prodigal was, “biblical truth shared with an attitude of love,” said JoAnn. They met many other families who were honest about their challenges and how God helped them. While she appreciated the authenticity, JoAnn was reluctant to share her story.
“I couldn’t stand the thought of bearing my soul or exposing the mistakes we’d made,” said JoAnn. “I’d lived for many years with a mask on at church and was very good at putting up a front.”
It was biblical truth and their community of friends that changed JoAnn and Andy’s hearts. “God used our kids to show us that we needed to be in community with people who would counsel us and use Scripture to support what they had to say,” said Andy. “We tried man’s wisdom, and it did not work.”
JoAnn agreed. “Everything we learned at the Prodigal was centered on God’s love and truth. We discovered that what we thought of as being a loving parent wasn’t actually loving at all. God’s Word talks about both grace and consequences. We desperately needed to set some boundaries at home,” she said.
As they continued through the curriculum, the Petrosinos realized they needed to love their kids unconditionally and get out of the way so the Lord could work. Old patterns were hard to break, and the words of Hebrews 12:1-3 kept them on track.
“The Lord surrounded us with His people – our ‘cloud of witnesses’,” said Andy. “They showed me that my family had become more important than God Himself. I had to be a good son to the Lord before I could ever be the man my wife and sons needed me to be. Laying down that encumbrance and trusting God was what I needed to do.”
The Petrosinos say their family remains a work in progress. “Do we have the ideal family and marriage now? Hardly! I don’t know a single family out there that is a finished success story,” said JoAnn. “Andy is married to a hard-driving, difficult female – me! We still struggle, but now we have the same goal – honoring God.”
“We’ve met other parents who are raising their kids to be happy rather than godly,” said Andy. “I can tell them from experience that we must obey Christ and nurture our kids in the admonition of the Lord. We’ll never know or control what our kids will face. The only thing we can control is our faithfulness to the Lord. We can trust our unknown future to a known God.”
Tuesdays • 6:30 pm • Watermark Tower/3rd fl • Kids’ Ministry available
Our ministry helps equip families and individuals to overcome the impact of poor choices made by loved ones as a result of selfishness, rebellion, addictions, sexual sins and other issues. Find out more at watermark.org/ministries/the-prodigal.