The Prodigal’s Part
As near as I can figure, there were four things (maybe five) that the Prodigal Son did before the Father rushed to him.
1. He acknowledged that everything around him was literally shit. He saw with his own eyes that, apart from his Father, all things and all resources decomposed into a pile of disappointment. He saw, face-to-face, the reality of the world, and acknowledged the tragedy and despair of being separated unto it.
2. He humbled himself. He softened his stiff upper lip, and stopped trying to make his own worth. He stopped putting his hope in a better day, stopped hiding in shame, and stopped denying the ever-pressing reality of his lowly and hopeless state. And in this, he stopped perpetuating the distance between himself and home.
3. He confessed—and hoped—that there was a better way. He realized that being a servant in his father’s house had a better end than being a ruler in his own world. The reality of this hope (or was it his desperation in the direness?) enabled him to let go of everything he was striving for. He no longer hoped in his own visions, but instead, in his Father’s forgiveness and faithfulness and love and provision.
4. He turned and walked toward his Father.
That “maybe fifth” thing is something I’m pretty sure about, but I don’t know how to say. It comes before number one. It’s the idea that the Prodigal Son had to first, intentionally, go off on his own and take his abilities for a spin. He indulged in a little “Rumspringa”. It’s not my intent to tell anyone to run head-long into a pig-pen, but I think it happens without us even realizing it, and it’s perhaps part of the plan—to live life as our own gods, and pursue our own good—before we’re certain that we actually want the person of God.
As for the Prodigal Son’s eventual acceptance of defeat after leaving home: I, too, remember avoiding the idea that there was badness in this world. And who wouldn’t want to keep failure at bay? I had a sort-of Pollyanna mind, and I was a good person, and good meant seeing the glass half-full. Besides—seeing badness meant an acceptance that I was not able to make it otherwise. I didn’t know how to reconcile it. So I avoided all badness, thinking that, in itself, made me good. But Jesus didn’t avoid badness and failures. He made a beeline straight toward it.
In our first-world country, failure and badness seems to be avoidable for awhile, and then we try to sweep the rest of it under the rug. It is very uncomfortable—very humbling—to admit that we struggle, that things are hard, that there is a nagging feeling of being let down despite bringing our admirable A-games into all that we do.
Fortunately or unfortunately, I was brought face-to-face with the end-result of the best this world has to offer. I could no longer avoid saying it—so in fact, I started shouting it: “This life is hopeless! It is depressing! It is despairing! It is shit!!” And I could do nothing about it.
That in itself was humbling.
Don’t good people buck up and press on? But somehow that was perpetuating the distance between me and true Hope. I was certain of it. And I was certain there was a better way. But I didn’t know how to get there except to turn from the direction I’d been heading. So I turned away from myself and toward the hope of God, whatever that looked like—whatever that meant.
Number four is the part of the story I mean to examine–turning from the old life, and walking toward the hope of new life. The story says that the Prodigal Son had gone to a far off country. How far away had he gone? Far enough for there to be a different climate, because there was a famine in his land, as opposed to his father’s. Far enough away to where his family name meant nothing.
And so my question is “How far did he actually have to walk before the Father saw him from a distance?” Because after I saw the world for what it is, after I humbled myself, after I knew I wanted God, and after I turned from my ways…
I felt like I had to walk for years before I was finally found.
And it was a long, humiliating, grueling pilgrimage at that.
There is a crowd of people right now, walking back home, because every other direction has proven to be unsatisfying; yet God hasn’t come. He hasn’t rushed out, there has been no party, and the distance feels impossible.
For those of us who have turned from the hope of ourselves in this world toward the hope of God, and yet still feel un-found, the story offers us this encouragement: keep walking. Timing is a mystery. Hope is a mystery. Gods ways are a mystery, but keep walking
Because here is a certainty: the Father is watching for you. And He will come to you.