ImageThe older I get, the more I’m grateful for the times in my life when my dissatisfaction with my current circumstances causes me to see the difference between where I am, and where I thought I was going.  I remember being really shocked and impressed at how much smarter my parents seemed after my four years away at college. When I left, I thought I had all the answers. I had a terrific college experience and made friends that are still precious to me 30 years later, but being the one from the “east coast” meant my parents couldn’t just drive down and take me to dinner when I had a bad day; they couldn’t even come for parents’ weekend. I didn’t get to take a break and drive home for a short vacation….it was a 24 hour drive one way.  I learned how precious home was when I was homesick. I learned that having all the responsibility for my choices was harder than submitting to the authority of my parents. I loved my years in Texas, but those years taught me that I belonged in Virginia.

Unfortunately, I share this trait with the Prodigal Son.  Both of us had to learn about ourselves the hard way. That young man gained the power to control his own life, but lacked the experience to do it wisely.  How different would his story have been if he’d gone home at the first sign of pain in that far country?  How many times did he have to see the truth about that “far country” before he finally believed it?

This is my favorite parable in the Bible for so many reasons, and I have so many questions about it.  Was this based on a real family that Jesus knew or that was represented in the crowd he taught in Luke 15?  What was the event that caused the Prodigal Son to finally decide to leave home?  Did his older brother bully him?  Was he a dreamer who wanted more excitement than the family farm offered?  Was he disdainful of his Father’s authority over him and eager to be in charge of his own life?  What had he heard about the “far country”, and what did he hope to find there?  What did he actually learn there?  What did he miss most about being home?  Did he feel shame in feeding pigs or relief that he had a job? How long was he gone? Did he rehearse his speech all the way home? Was he fearful of being rejected? How was he different when he returned?

What did your “far country” look like?  What did you hope to find there, and how long did it take you to decide to return home to the one who loves you unconditionally? Our “far countries” may be a season of sin in our lives that robs us of our joy and our security like it did for this Prodigal. They can also be wonderful places (like Baylor was for me)…that are not part of God’s plan for us.  Either way, we need to leave them.

When this prodigal son left home, he demanded what he did not deserve. When he returned, he asked for what he did not deserve. His pig pen made him so miserable that he learned the value of home. What was the moment/occasion/event that caused you to change direction and place your trust back in your heavenly Father? When did you need a fresh start so badly that you were willing to admit you were wrong and take responsibility for your poor choices? His “pig pen” was a healing, healthy turning point in his life. He didn’t enjoy it, but it made all the difference to his future. He intentionally left home, and he intentionally returned – to the same farm and Father and brother that he’d left. The only change was in him. He started over again in the same place he’d left, but this time with experience and perspective that gave him better understanding and appreciation of that place. And that change began in his “pig pen”.

Some of us prolong our stay in the far country, and try to make ourselves happy in the pig pens we find there. We can only guess at the pain and disappointment that led him to that pig pen, but that pig pen led him home.  He was miserable enough to decide he’d had enough, and humble enough to admit he needed a fresh start.

I am so profoundly grateful for a heavenly Father who loves me enough to let me go, so that I can choose him for myself.  He doesn’t want to condemn me for my foolish decisions; he intends to throw a party when I make the right choice.  May we all find our “pig pens” to be so distasteful that they convince us to turn around and go back to where we are loved.