Prodigal. The very word stirs quiet murmurs among parents gathered with friends, that pained glance and sympathetic nod. In a strange way we find some semblance of relief when we discover that the people around us get it. They too have a prodigal in the family—a son or daughter, a mom or husband, a nephew or best family friend. It is not a badge of honor. But it is a badge, the kind with the black strip wrapped horizontally across, like the police officer who is expressing grief for a fallen comrade.
To be a prodigal means that one is recklessly spending, not counting the cost, being wasteful, perhaps with another’s possessions or with trust capital or with his own life. Tim Keller, in his book The Prodigal God, rightfully suggests that God is a prodigal, extravagant with his grace.
But his is not the extravagance of which we speak here.
Some of you reading this are a prodigal. You have moved away from what you know is your best scenario for real life. Deep down you know it, which is why within yourself you remain so conflicted. Relationships and responsibilities are now geared to cater to your drive to be supposedly free from whatever it was that you thought you should abandon. But are you really free?
“Well,” you say, “I’m finding myself.” Really? At what cost?
“Well, who are you to judge me?” Honestly, there is no judgment here. Your own conscience is the judge, which is why your soul remains in such turmoil, and you are determined to, well, hide.
“I’ll make things right later. Right now I just want to have fun.” But how “fun” is it really, especially when those who love you best and most are devastated because they see you run away from what is best in your life? How much fun are you making things for them?
“Who cares about them?” you ask. Right. That is the point, I suppose. Prodigals generally only think of themselves. The reality is that now is the time for you to return home. Cry out to God, confess to him that you are tired and broken and want his best. Enter into the humility of the son who had run from his father only to discern that his life was a mess and it was time to go home (see Luke 15:11 and following).
Some of you have prodigals, and your love for them causes you to hurt in ways you never knew possible. You spend your time asking yourself what you did wrong, what you should have done differently, and what might it take to repair the matter. As one friend of mine winsomely says, “Stop shoulding all over yourself!” It will not solve a thing.
Besides, there is Genesis 3. My friend Larry Osborne recently reminded me and some others that Adam and Eve were the very first prodigals, yet they grew up in an absolutely perfect environment with the Perfect Parent—God himself.
They were created in God’s image, endowed with finite versions of many of God’s amazing attributes; things like wisdom and discernment and a work ethic and love. “And God blessed them,” the text tells us in Genesis 1:28. They had everything they possibly needed and more. Indeed, he gave them dominion over all of creation. Hardly anything was beyond their reach.
They lived in an environment void of shame. There was nothing that should make them scramble to make their lives work. They had meaningful relationships with one another and God. They had purpose. They had the privilege of walking with God in the cool of the Garden. Theirs was a world that was beyond amazing!
But they came to believe it was not enough, so they rebelled, forfeiting all of it, determined to do their own thing. I suppose the question is this: if even God’s first children should dis all that God had provided, including him who was the ultimate Parent, then how could we possibly believe we could control the choices those we love make? It simply is not that simple.
It need not be our fault.
But we hurt. And wait. And pray. And hope. And, perhaps like God did with Adam and Eve, we speak truth with love (cp. Gen. 3:14-19), draw boundaries where appropriate (cp. Gen. 3:23-24), lavish grace should they return (cp. Gen.3:21), and also like God we carry on with our lives, faithfully remembering there are “other sheep” (cp. John 10:16) upon whom we must pour out our love.