Tag Archives: Prodigal

“Return”

“For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.”
2 Chronicles 30:9b (NRSVCE)

A few years ago I wrote a play and the entire play was created out of one simple truth: At some point, you have to return home. From there I reached out and plucked a leaf off the tree of tales about a young boy who ran away from his true love and stayed away for many years. When tragedy strikes just over a decade later he has no choice but to return home, and with it he must face the thing he’s been running from for so long.

The theme of “returning” is a big one across the Great Story. There are so many stories in which people find themselves off in some kind of wilderness. Sometimes they place themselves there and sometimes they are there against their will, but somehow they eventually return in some fashion whether they are led, they are invited, they are forced by circumstance, or they simply choose to do so.

In today’s chapter we pick up the story of King Hezekiah who is trying to help his nation heal after years in which they’ve willfully wandered from the God of their ancestors and many find themselves in the wilderness of captivity. In yesterday’s chapter, Hezekiah had the Levites clean out the temple and prepare it to be used as it had been intended for the worship God. In today’s chapter he sends out a proclamation throughout the land, even to neighboring countries where people were living in exile and captivity. The proclamation simply asked people to do one thing:  return.  Hezekiah wanted all of the Hebrew people to come to Jerusalem for the biggest annual festival on the Hebrew calendar. The Passover feast celebrated God delivering their nation from slavery in Egypt.

Along my journey I’ve seen the theme of return play out in the lives of many people in many different ways. I’ve observed that we often abandon faith in God early in life. Sometimes it’s a willful choice out of disagreement with the faith institution of our childhood. Sometimes it’s prompted by pain or a tragic victimization of some kind. Sometimes it’s as simple as choosing to go our own way. So we wander, and often our spirits are stuck back in childhood. Then later in our life journey I observe people returning, not necessarily to an institution, but to God whom they find altogether different than those childhood memories of pain, anger, doubt, and frustration. Not because God has changed, but they have changed and with it their understanding and perceptions.

In today’s chapter the people of Judah returned for the Passover. Just as Joseph returned to his family. Just as David returned after years as mercenary in exile. Just as the remnant returned from Babylon in Nehemiah’s day. Just as the prodigal son returned in Jesus’ parable. Just as Peter returned after denying Jesus. Just as Jesus returned to the Father after His resurrection.

Just as….

No matter how far we may wander, no matter where we may roam, I’ve found that God’s Spirit is always whispering to our spirits:

“Return.”

 

Wisdom You Only Find Away from Home

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians.”
Jeremiah 24:4 (NIV)

I can remember running away as a child only once. Despite a memory that recalls some of the most arcane details of my early years, I can’t for the life of me remember what made me so angry that day. I couldn’t have been more than five or six years old when I announced to my mother that I was running away. I remember that she didn’t seem particularly worried. I left without packing a bag or giving a single thought to where I was going, how I was going to get there, nor what I would do for the most basic of necessities. (Wendy will not be surprised by this.) I hadn’t gone as far as two blocks up Madison Avenue before the realities of my poor decision making caught up with me. I turned around and headed home.

I never attempted to physically run away from home again. I learned along my life journey, however, that terms of exile and running away can happen as much in the heart, mind, and spirit as they do in the body.

Today’s short chapter is a brief word picture God gave the ancient prophet Jeremiah. He writes from the rubble of Jerusalem he had long foreseen and prophesied. The best and brightest of his people had been taken captive back to Babylon. The royal family had either been killed or fled to Egypt to escape being killed. Jeremiah is given a vision of two sets of figs: one good and one rotten. The word picture was simple. The poor exiles in Babylon were good fruit that God would bless and prepare for an eventual redemptive return. The royals and politicians who propagated the mess were rotten figs who would continue to rot.

This morning I mulled over Jeremiah’s vision and the realities faced by the poor exiles facing the harsh new realities of life in Persia. I’ve come to accept along this journey that there are pieces of wisdom that are only found away from home. Abraham was led away from his home and family. Moses was sent down river in a basket and later ran to the land of Midian. Joseph was exiled in Egypt, and his father Jacob redeemed his son only when famine drove him and his family to their own exile. David the anointed boy-king would spend years of exile in the desert wasteland before finally ascending to the throne. The prodigal son only learned how good he had it back home when he found himself covered with pig slop in a distant country. The prodigal’s elder brother, meanwhile, had no idea how lost he was at home.

As a father I came to expect that my children would someday run away in one way or another whether that was a childish block-and-a-half trek up the street or a secret exile of the young adult soul. Looking back I can see that each of them did so in their own way, though they may not be completely finished. Exile and running away can be cyclical or repetitive occurrences along one’s life journey. I realized early in my experience as a father that I would be foolish to shelter, hinder, or deny them the wisdom they will only find along those stretches of their respective journeys.

This morning I’m smiling at the memory of a young boy, in full-blown childish tantrum, announcing he was running away and storming out of the house. My mother didn’t stop me. She didn’t run after me. She didn’t try to convince me of the error of my ways or my foolish lack of preparation. She wished me well and watched me walk up Madison Avenue. A short time later she silently said nothing as I returned home having gained nothing but a simple piece of wisdom that has served me well the rest of my life.

Thanks, mom.

featured photo courtesy of wespeck via flickr

Wandering and Waiting

Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty.
Zechariah 1:3 (NIV)

Over the past few days Wendy and I have thoroughly enjoyed having our daughter, Madison visiting us. It’s become a bit of a ritual for our family to see the newest Star Wars movies together when we have the opportunity. On Sunday evening we watched The Force Awakens together on DVD, and then last night we went to the theater to see The Last Jedi.

On the way home last night we had fun discussing the themes of the story. One of the themes that stuck out for us was that of orphans, children, parents, and awaiting a return. Rey awaits the return of her parents. Han and Leia await the return of their rebellious son. The Resistance awaits the return of Luke. The wait and the return are powerful themes.

The Christmas story echoes these same things. There was 400 years between Malachi, the last of the prophets, and Gabriel’s visitation to Elizabeth and Mary. The people of Israel had been defeated and scattered by empire after empire: Assyria, Babylonian, Greek, and Roman. Their hope was in a deliverer. Simeon and Anna served in the temple awaiting a glimpse of hope. Later, Jesus pushes into this theme in His story of the prodigal son. At the end of His earthly ministry Jesus promised His return at a day and hour known only to the Father. We’ve been waiting ever since.

In today’s opening chapter of the prophet Zechariah’s visions, we once again see the theme. This time it is Father calling out to His children in a foreshadowing of the prodigal’s story: “Return to me and I will return to you.” The image is that of a parent sitting on the front porch, eyes fixed on the road, hoping desperately for a glimpse of a wayward child making his or her way home. Jesus describes so beautifully what happens when the child is spotted:

“But while he [the lost son] was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

This morning I’m thinking about the holidays of Christmas and New Year’s. I’m thinking about families and parents, and children and homecomings. Christmas is about that which has been long-awaited. It’s about redemption and reconciliation. It’s about new hope, and new beginnings.

There have been some stages of my life journey in which I took on the role of the prodigal. I know what it is to wander, to squander, and to wade in the hog slop of poor choices. There have been other stretches of my journey in which I have waited and hoped for a child’s return. I have felt the grace of God’s embrace. I have felt the joy of extending that grace and embrace. They are all part of the journey.

My prayers this morning are for those who wandering and wondering about the tug in their heart calling them to return. My prayers are for those whose eyes are fixed on the road, hoping for a glimpse of the child returning.

Wandering, waiting, hoping, returning.

They are all a part of this journey.

Returning Home

Now these are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive to Babylon (they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to their own town….
Ezra 2:1 (NIV)

The past few weeks have been times of transition here at Vander Well manor. Our daughter, who has not really lived under our roof for almost six years, returned home from grad school across the pond. Suzanna, who has been living under our roof for two years, is packing to leave for college tomorrow. The theme of leaving home and returning home has been resonating in my soul these past weeks. In fact, for whatever reason, the theme of returning home has always resonated deeply in my soul.

At some point, almost everyone returns home. It may be for a wedding. It may be for a funeral. The college student returns home for provision before launching on their own road. The soldier returns from war. The adult returns home to confront his or her past, to attend “home-coming,” or out of desperation because they have no other place to go. One of the things I love most about baseball is the fundamental object of the game: to be safe at home. In Jesus’ story of the prodigal child, the younger sibling returns home to seek forgiveness and restoration. Returning home is one of the fundamental themes of life.

In today’s chapter, we find a roll call of  the Hebrews who have been living in exile for years in Babylon and are now returning home. They have no idea what they will find. They have no idea what to expect. Like all those who return home, there had to have been mixed feelings of excitement and fear, joy and trepidation.

Along life’s journey, I’ve come to realize that the journey home is almost always a requisite for those who desire to progress spiritually. Most of us, when we leave home, leave unfinished business behind. There usually comes a point in life in which we cannot move forward toward peace, wisdom, and maturity unless we go back home and deal with whatever it is that awaits us there.

 

The Prodigal’s Lesson for Parents

Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 166...
Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1662–1669 (Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So [the prodigal son] got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
Luke 15:20 (NIV)

The struggle of parental control and rebellious children is as old as humanity itself and common to even the best of families. The particulars vary as well as the severity, but the path of fierce (and often foolish) independence is well trod by masses of young people escaping the tight grip of smothering (and often foolish) control.

It was while I was a young man working with youth that I first observed the fact that the prodigal’s Father did not go after his son. He didn’t spend a fortune chasing after the boy. He didn’t hire private detectives in the distant country to apprise him of his wasteful son’s dealings and whereabouts. He didn’t go chasing after the kid, confronting him, recounting the boy’s many poor choices and providing him with an itemized statement of all the pains and worry he’d caused. He didn’t seek out his son and demand that the boy return.

The father stayed home and let his son fail. He let his son squander the money and learn first hand what it is to be in need. He let the boy make terrible, self-seeking friends and learn just how trustworthy those types of friends are. He let his son go hungry and stand in pig slop until even the livestock feed began to appeal to him.

Sometimes children need to runaway. It’s part of their journeys and their stories. It teaches them priceless lessons that parents can never provide and their children will never hear. But that does not mean the father was uncaring or unconcerned. In Jesus story, the father sees his son coming from a distance. The father had been watching. The father had been waiting. The father’s eyes had, countless times, turned up the road from the homestead – each glance hoping to catch sight of his lost son coming home.

Jesus story was intended to illustrate Father God’s attitude towards foolish sinners who make tragic life mistakes. Foolish sinners like me. God has been so patient, gracious and forgiving with me in my foolhardy trips (more than one) to distant countries to squander what I’d been given. It would be hypocritical of me not to afford my own children the grace that Father God has showered me, one of His many prodigal.

Sometimes You Have to Go Home

Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 166...
Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1662–1669 (Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jacob came home to his father Isaac in Mamre, near Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had stayed. Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him. Genesis 35:27-29 (NIV)

There’s something fascinating to me about the theme of going home. I find it one of the most powerful themes in life and in literature, and it is the core theme of a play I wrote. As a matter of fact, it’s also one my favorite things about baseball. How cool is it that the object of a game is to arrive safely home? Jesus even tapped into this theme in the parable that has become arguably his most famous and powerful story: the prodigal son.

One of the common experiences of being human is leaving home. Sometimes the leaving is a natural and healthy part of the process of becoming an adult and making your own way in life. Others have a more harrowing tale to tell of brokenness, abandonment, or escape from an unhealthy family situation. No matter the personal story, I’ve discovered along the journey that at one time or another almost everybody faces this life situation of returning home. Sometimes it’s a fun an nostalgic event, sometimes it’s a journey of repentance, sometimes it’s a confrontational situation or an event fraught with anxiety, fear and uncertainty. Very often, that return home is forced upon us by the death of a loved one as it was for Jacob as he returns to bury his father, Isaac.

I’ve also come to realize that this concept of going home is about reconciliation and about personal peace. I’ve witnessed a restlessness of spirit in those who live with broken relationships or unfinished business back home, especially with parents. The process of facing the issues which are churning that restlessness of soul can be one of the most pivotal and powerful in a person’s life journey. No matter what the outcome, the journey home and the confrontation can be the key to finding a sense of healing – even if it’s only with one’s self.

Sometimes, you have to go home.

Chapter-a-Day Hosea 2

Path off Coombs Road, Bakewell, Derbyshire
(Photo credit: eamoncurry123)

“But then I will win her back once again.
    I will lead her into the desert
    and speak tenderly to her there.”
Hosea 2:14 (NLT)

As one who has walked the faith journey for a good long while, I am repeatedly amazed at God’s patience, grace and long suffering with those of us who choose into relationship with Him. I can look back and see so many times that God could have, and perhaps should have, cut me loose and cast me aside. To be honest, there were many times that He gave me freedom to make foolish choices and harvest the consequences of my actions.

Nevertheless, God has always proven faithful. St. Paul wrote to his protege Timothy that even when we are faithless, God is faithful because God cannot disown who He is. Faithfulness is at the core of God’s being. Despite the fact that Israel acted like an unfaithful spouse and even though our own thoughts, motives, and actions show us to be no better, God waits for our return like the Prodigal’s father. When we come to our senses and return, God does not just grudgingly accept us, but woos us with kindness and tenderness. God goes the extra mile to win our hearts back again.

Today, I am humbly reminded of God’s faithfulness to this wandering wayfarer. His kindness leads me once more to repentance, and gratitude, and a renewed commitment to faithfully and lovingly follow.