“Once something breaks, you can never put it back together like it was. There will always be cracks and glue, stains and uneven surfaces.” Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake
The prodigal has been on my mind for several months. I researched the story and spoke about it at a spring retreat. Since it was a woman’s retreat, I took some liberty and changed it to the prodigal daughter. It was parable to begin with…
I haven’t been able to get her out of my mind since. The whole story is absolutely fascinating from beginning to end. We think we know it, only to come to the conclusion that we have barely scratched the surface.
The question that’s been rolling around my brain lately, is this; What happens when the prodigal returns home?
We know about the beautiful welcome by the father, the party, the sulky brother. But after the party favours have been handed out, the feast eaten, the streamers cut down and the balloons popped, what happens then?
What happens when reality hits? When the family goes back to work, to school, to life? When the celebrations are over? What does the prodigal do then?
I’m intrigued. She was the one who left, after all. The one who traded in all that was good for much of what was questionable. Now she is back. What does this mean for her?
Is it simply a story of returning, repentance, and redemption? Or is it a slow climb back to where you’ve once been? A return to the familiar as a complete stranger? I wonder.
Maybe it’s all of the above. For some it’s a return and jumping off spot to even bigger faith. For others, it’s a long, slow, journey back to a deeper, more intimate faith. But it’s not an easy path getting there. It’s dealing with lingering doubts, consequences and going back to a relationship that was shaky at best.
In the bible, the father is good. Why did she run then? I think that at the core of her leaving, was a question about that one relationship. It might have come from miscommunication. Or it might not. Whatever it was, at one point, she became convinced that she could manage her life better than her father. She doubted his love for her. That he had her best interests at heart.
So that relationship, even though she came back in repentance, would be strained wouldn’t it? Until the question at the centre of the leaving, was answered. Relationships are so complicated. It would take time to iron out all that had gone before. To figure out who they were now and how they related to one another. But it’s part of the process of returning and figuring things out. Of forgiveness.
I think it’s an important question to ask because prodigals come back and many struggle. They return to the familiar to find themselves a stranger. Like the prisoner released from jail who wrestles with trying to fit back into a “normal” life. Prodigals come back and people assume they’ll go back to who they once were. But they won’t. They can’t. They’ve already moved away from the person they once were by their leaving. They will never be that same person. They have grown and changed. As the quote from above says, there will be stains and uneven surfaces. Something was broken and the scars leave a mark in the shine. A rough edge to the surface. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just is.
It means the prodigal is not going to fit back into that same space she once filled. She is now a square peg in a round hole. She has to find her new normal. She needs the space to do that.
On the flip side, the family the prodigal returns to isn’t the same either. They have also had to grow, and learn and come to terms with a shift. They had to face the fact that the prodigal might never return. That alone never leaves a person unscathed.
So the return of the prodigal is a slow, complicated dance. We see that in the story in Luke with the difference in reactions to the prodigal’s return. Where everyone has to learn new steps to old rhythms.
The soul searching doesn’t end with the return. Not for the prodigal or for the family. The return marks the beginning of moving towards something new. The start of a whole new round of soul searching. Looking for answers to some hard questions and hopefully discovering new growth, new acceptance and place to move forward from.
The return, while the end of the story, is really just the beginning…