I confess I have experienced irrational thoughts like these when my out-of-state sons don’t call or text back when I try to make contact. It’s crazy, I know, but when I don’t hear back right away, I go down the cell phone black hole. I experience the full range of emotions -- from anticipation, hopefulness, and mild irritation to frustration, anger, indifference, obsession, panic and fear!
I get a little text, or a call from one of them, and all is forgiven. I am once again at peace, and all is right with the world. If they happen to apologize for not getting back to me sooner, I never berate them or dole out guilt.
An unreturned phone call or text is one thing, but what if they left after an angry scene where an issue was unresolved, loving words were left unspoken, or hurtful words were left hanging? What if I didn’t hear from them for years and years?
If and when they returned someday, how would I respond?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the biblical parable of The Prodigal Son, told in Luke 15:11-32.
It’s a well-known parable, but if you haven’t looked at it lately, I would encourage you to read and ponder it. As you go through it, ask yourself who you most relate to in this story.
In a nutshell, this is the story of a father who has two sons. The older son works hard on his father’s land and stays at home to help his father. The younger son asks his father for his inheritance early, leaves the land, makes a series of very poor decisions, and squanders his inheritance on an extravagant lifestyle.
After a famine, in desperation, the younger son heads home, clearly worried about how the reunion with his father is going to go. But when his father sees him coming, he rushes to meet him, rejoicing at his younger son's return. He lavishes the younger son with gifts and throws a party in his honor. The older brother is bewildered, however, and refuses to attend the party. He angrily asks his father why there has never been a party thrown for him after all the years he spent faithfully working for his father. “My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15: 31-32)
So, who is the real prodigal in this story?
Full disclosure: this word "prodigal" was one I clearly misunderstood for many years. Because this parable is about a lost child who returns, I incorrectly assumed that it meant “lost” or “someone who was lost and now has returned."
However, when our pastor spoke about this parable as part of a sermon series at our church, she took the time to point out that the word "prodigal" actually means “wastefully or recklessly extravagant.” Although we recognize the younger son as the prodigal for wasting his wealth, it is the father who is the real prodigal in this story. He is wastefully and recklessly extravagant in the way he shows unconditional love and forgiveness to his younger son.
I know families who have cut ties with other family members over hurts, broken communication or misunderstandings. I know others who have lost a child to bad choices and the despair that comes with that.
Should we find ourselves in a similar situation, one where there is seemingly no hope of resolution or reunion, may we remember this parable of reconciliation and redemption, this model of what God will do for us and what we should do for others.
And if and when these people return into our lives, may we be The Prodigal, showering them with wasteful, reckless, extravagant love.
How wasteful and extravagant is the depth of your love for the one in your life who is lost to you?