The Prodigal

The mood is festive, people laughing and singing. The table is laden down with the best meats, cheeses and side dishes. There’s a chocolate fountain in the corner with fruit to dip. A family celebration – not a wedding but a prodigal returned home. 

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The term prodigal has many connotations, some are negative but not all. In the case of a prodigal returned home, there’s positive mixed in with the negative, creating a bittersweetness about the word. 

We’ve retold Jesus’ parable many times over in many different mediums. It’s a powerful story that we all can relate to in some way or another. We are the parent waiting for our son or daughter to come home. We are the elder son, angry at the grace our father has extended and is, in our opinion, totally unfair. Or we are the prodigal. 

I think prodigals come in all forms because we are all separated from God due to sin. We often think of prodigals as unbelievers or kids who are on a journey of self-discovery. They may be children raised in church but turn away as they become adults. They are all prodigals but they’re not the only ones Jesus is referencing. In the parable, we read that the boy is a beloved son. He is a full-fledge member of the clan but he leaves his Father and family by choice. For me, this is a story of a believer stepping away from their faith. 

Why would someone do that? There are many reasons and seasons in our lives where we get lost; our circumstances are not ideal, busyness keeps us distracted and exhausted or a diagnosis turns our world off-kilter. God seems far off. We feel abandoned. Is He trustworthy? We may believe the grass is greener on the other side of the fence with that job or that person. We willingly step away from our Father because life outside our Father’s household looks so inviting. It’s shinier and prettier and it beckons us with lies. We chase it, leaving behind what’s really important with barely a backward glance.

And God in his grace and mercy let’s us go – free will and all that. Some of us need to learn lessons the hard way to get it through our thick skulls. Sometimes it’s a journey we need to go on in order to discover who God is, what our wounds are and why they matter. We need to figure out who we are in relation to God, the Father.

The Father in the parable, lets the son go but he doesn’t give up on him and neither does God. Others get impatient with us and want us to hurry up and figure it out already. Or they write us off. But God is patient, letting us find the way Home, experiencing the construction and pot holes along the way. He gives us travelling companions who help guide us and He walks along beside us, waiting patiently for us to acknowledge Him. To come Home. This has been my experience.

Whatever kind of prodigal we are, it’s never too late to go Home, no matter what we’ve done. God is there waiting for us, at the end of the driveway.

I’ve written about the prodigal in my book, Exit Stage Right. As I said this story has fascinated me for a long time and I thought it would be interesting to loosely retell it in a modern setting. It’s my hope that the message of hope and love in the prodigal’s story will find a new audience and maybe some that need the reminder that it’s never to late to return Home. 

 

Turn Home

Home. What is your reaction to that word? I imagine there are as many different responses as people reading this blog.

What got me thinking about home was the study of the prodigal and a very poignant scene in a book I read a few months back.

The prodigal ran away from his home.  He demanded his inheritance and left home to go live the way he wanted.  Eventually the money ran out and he was feeding pigs.  Realizing he would be treated better at his father’s house as a servant, he returns home.  Hid dad welcomes him with open arms and won’t hear about him working as a servant.  He is restored to his place as his dad’s son.  The story is recorded in the gospel of Luke 15 if you are unfamiliar with it.

In the novel I read, the main character was forced from her home.  Many years later, she is weeping and someone asks her why is she crying? Here is the quote from the novel Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas:


‘“Because I am lost,” she whispered into the earth. “And I do not know the way.”
It was what she had never been able to tell Nehemia – that for ten years, she had been unsure how to find the way home, because there was no home left.” (Heir of Fire, by Sarah J. Maas, p.281)

That scene has stayed with me for months because I understand exactly what this character is expressing. When we can’t find home, we are lost. Have you ever felt that way?

After many moves and as I age, I’m learning home is not really a place. I’ve lived in many houses, not all have been a home.

We put a lot of emphasis on the physical home here in North America. We are told in countless ways that the places we live need to be up to date and nicely decorated. There’s a certain standard to live up to. I agree that living in a place you find nice, goes a long way to making it a home. But it’s not the main thing. I think we have it all wrong.

I believe home is whatever we give our hearts to. That saying, Home is Where Your Heart Is, is true. That’s why it doesn’t necessarily have to be a place. It can be a person, a job, a dream. We lose sight of the fact that these homes are all temporary.

We can get lost in them. We lose our way from our true home. God created us with a longing in our very beings to be in a relationship with Him. He is our true home. I heard a speaker in the summer talk about how we should not inspire children to want to go to Heaven. Because heaven is not the prize, he said. God is.

Making our physical homes, our spouses, our jobs or our ministries our homes sets us up to get lost. We put our hope in things and people only to get disappointed. We become disillusioned and we wander away from the source of our true home and hope.

Sometimes like that character in the book, we can’t find our way back. We are lost. All we really want is to go home but we can’t find it anymore. How do we get back?

We make it harder than it is, I think. In the story of the prodigal, the son turned towards home and found his dad waiting for him at the end of the drive. God is the same. If we turn to Him, He is there. Waiting to welcome us home.

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The Return of the Prodigal

“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?

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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.

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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…

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