Sitting here early Thursday morning, reflecting on the teaching of the Prodigal Son and how I fit into the story. My life reveals that I have been both the younger and older son...or I guess to be accurate,daughter.
I did not know much about God growing up, just that my extended family went to church on Sundays and we didn’t. I loved to go when we visited them and was very curious about all this “church stuff”. Upon leaving each Sunday, while visiting grandma, I remember a sense of joy in my heart and yearning for more.
I suppose the first 20 years of my life liken me to the younger son. I didn’t necessarily ask for an inheritance and go my own way, but my panic prayers typified the same type of relationship. When I went to God, it was usually only when I was desperate and wanted something “from” Him or a circumstance to change in my life that I deemed needed changing. I don’t think I ever went to Him....just because I wanted Him. In fact, in reading this parable, it is not clear that the son returned because he wanted the father. I read that he wanted to eat and be hired by his dad. His plan was to confess so that he could receive food, shelter and work. I’m not hearing this story express a desire of a son to have his relationship with his father back...or if there really ever was a relationship in the beginning...other than father/son by birth.
Even though relationship with his father may not have been his primary motive in returning, how can one not be overwhelmed by the lavish love the father extended? I can only wonder if at this moment the younger son might have thought, “Wow, this love is amazing..I can wait on the fattened calf for awhile and just sit here and hang out with my dad. I am overwhelmed and grateful that my father has accepted me...that he has taken me back...and with such reassuring love?” I mean, who can refuse that kind of love and what can compare to it? Absolutely nothing! I mean, he came back for food and shelter, but what he got were divine calories of love that would never burn off or run out.
I remember the first day, when I experienced this same extravagant love and how it gripped my soul and brought healing and forgiveness into my heart. As I grew in this love, the desire of my heart was to follow God and to do things the right way, because I was so grateful. At 20 years of age, this was all new to me...I just wanted people to tell me everything I needed to do so I could be a good Christian....I sincerely desired to do my best and achieve this...honestly because I wanted to...not to prove something to Him or others....I just didn’t know how the Christian life was supposed to look and I didn’t want to lose this peace, joy and hope that I was experiencing in my heart. I wanted God and I hoped He would keep wanting me too.
Throughout the next 10 years of my life God grew me and put people in my path who walked alongside me, taught me, prayed for me, challenged me and loved me. Somewhere in the storyline of those ten years I began to play a different role. I was no longer the Prodigal Son...and the “newby” in the family of God. Without having an awareness of it, at the time, I became what is described in this parable as the older son.
I believe my thoughts and actions most likely surpassed what we see described in scripture as the older son. I thought I was ‘doing’ all the right things I had been taught to do. Slowly but surely I developed a mind set that reflected a degree of superiority and a belief that I was becoming more godly....or as some might say, more like Jesus. I shudder as I look back to these times. It is in Christ, and in Him alone, that I am able to stand today, knowing the hurt I caused others (especially my children) and myself while living life as an ‘older daughter’. His grace and truth have set me free from my sin and shame. When I sit and ponder this season of my life and how the ripple affect hurt others, I thank God that He uses all things for His good, obviously not just in my life but for those who were affected.
I was so right, so I thought. I went to the best church, so I thought. It was too bad that everyone else was missing out and not coming to ‘my’ church, so I thought. They just weren’t getting it, smugly believing we had a corner on the truth and they unfortunately couldn’t see it. Just typing this makes me cry, thank you Jesus for not giving up on me...prideful and arrogant and self centered as I was....and truthfully, can still be. You love me, I am yours forever and always.
As I entered my older daughter years, God brought with it opportunities...such opportunities opened doors that exposed me....my thoughts, my heart, my prideful ways, my assumptions...my religiosity....my moralism and striving. Ouch, this hurt, but it needed to. Broken and hurting I looked to God, asking for his help to trust Him and make sense of this shattered glass...this life that was no longer working. In this brokenness, I experienced a humility and was able to hear from others in a way I had not before. Because of the opportunities laid before my husband and I, we had the privilege to sit and listen to men and women from all over the country and other countries, teach through the scriptures. Men and women, teaching both men and women. People from different denominations, cultures and race....experiencing God...not just one way, but as creatively as our Creator has made the heavens and the earth....and all mankind.
I specifically remember one incident, while listening to a pastor/author teach one summer, while at a conference. I had heard “bad” things about this guy...that he wasn’t biblical and to stay away from his book...that he was someone misleading so many. I had not personally taken the time to read this pastors book or investigate anything about him. Sadly, I believed all these things must be true about this person...because after all, these Godly people I knew disapproved of Him, why shouldn’t I? I assumed, falsely, things about this persons character. I will never forget this day, almost unable to move after listening to his teaching. His heart for the Lord, teaching full of grace and truth, in a humility so palpable you could taste it...so real, so genuine. I was mad at myself...I was ashamed. The old saying, don’t judge a book by its cover....well, that is what I had done with a person, even more appalling in my eyes.
As the years go by, I find myself less and less threatened by those who question aspects of the Christian faith...or simply want to ask questions about things we think are so black and white in scripture. Maybe it is because God exposed me so many times when I thought, “this is right” and this is the way it is supposed to be....you are wrong and I am right, and you are misinterpreting the scripture. I desire to go to God and scripture with others, in humility and discover together...and even if we don’t come to the same conclusion...I choose to leave that in God’s hands and let Him be God in both our lives.
My oldest son dated a non-Christian some years ago. As he approached us we shared with him how strongly we disapproved of this, as did scripture. This caused heated arguments...we were standing for truth and he just didn’t want to hear it. Our relationship with Him was greatly strained. As time went on, he invited her to a weekly youth group and she often came, without hesitation. On one particular gathering...I was the featured speaker. Near the end of my sharing I asked if anyone in the room would desire to begin a relationship with Christ...and if so, to raise their hand. Moments later, a small hand lifted to the air. The hand of one whom we had so vehemently tried to keep out of our sons life. The six weeks following she wanted to meet with me and go through some one-to-one discipleship material. No, I am not stating I’m a believer in evangelism dating...as some would call it, but who am I to put God in a box? He does not want us to be yolked with unbelievers....but do I therefore proclaim to know who those people will be? Hmmm. So, the person I was trying to shield my son from...is the very person God draws near through me. It was as if God was saying to me, “You think you know it all, but you don’t, and you’re not in control of me, what I do and how I decide to reach out to the lost world.” Talk about a lesson in humility....and there are so many many many more.
I wonder how the “middle son” would be referred to, if there was one in this parable? I started to say that I think I’d like to meet him, but then I realized, I already have, and His name is Jesus.
Vic and Monique
We are all about helping your marriage thrive.