My near middle age (Greg recently informed me that I am turning 35 in May and not 34 as I have believed all year and this has greatly messed with my emotional status) has me convinced of a few things. One, Venmo is the future and we all need to get on board with it. Beginning in 2017, if you do not have Venmo and you foolishly loan me money in some way, do not expect to get paid back. Two, all stores carrying all things that I need should just have a drive thru option..at the very least a self checkout option. Because when you have a whiny, opinionated, stubborn little person in tow you should just have the option to make things go as smoothly and quickly as possible, preferably without leaving your car. And three, we all have prodigals in our lives somewhere. We are also all someone else’s prodigal most likely in some way, but we all have our own to cry over and fear for.
I recently had a conversation with my pastor about a prodigal in my life. I had hit a wall. I didn’t know what to do anymore. My counselor had very selfishly just decided to have another baby and go on maternity leave and the levels of sheer anger and frustration I was carrying were just eating me from the inside out. So I did the cost effective and godly thing, and tried to make my pastor be my counselor for an hour. He did a really great job and kickstarted my heart back into a place that allowed some light to come back in…and I am very sure is glad that I do in fact have someone to talk to on a regular basis.
Amongst the many questions and thoughts he had, we talked at great length about the prodigal son, that slippery little ungrateful minion of a youth. And even though I have heard the story many, many, many, MANY times (read: at least once a year for at least 30 years) I have always commiserated with the older brother character. Because I am perfect, duh. And he gets the short end of the stick in that story, in my humble opinion. But this time around, my friend and pastor pointed my attention to the father of the prodigal. And rather than reminding me of what the father of the lost son did for his son when he returned, like all the grace and the party and the big cow they ate and everything, he pointed at what the prodigal’s father DIDN’T do as he watched his youngest son walk away from him.
He didn’t chase him down. He didn’t beg him to come back and do some intense counseling sessions. He didn’t promise to be different if the son stayed. He didn’t offer him anything to stay. And he didn’t go with him. He let his son leave.
I haven’t been letting one of my prodigals leave. I’ve been begging. I’ve been bribing. I’ve been compromising and I’ve been chasing. And you know what’s happening? Exhaustion, for both of us. Frustration, for both of us. Anger, for both of us. Have you ever tried to convince someone to stay who was so ready to walk out the door? It’s a really not fun experience. It’s not worth it, in the end, to pin someone down who just wants to be free.
And so now I am letting go. There is nothing dramatic in it. There is no big speech or last ditch guilt trip and there is no big failure or finality to our relationship. This is a stop on our path, the stop where the road forks a little for both of us.
And I am spending some time thinking about what the prodigal’s father did all that time when his son was away. Life didn’t stop just because the prodigal left, in fact the father had a huge cow to sacrifice when his son finally returned so he obviously continued to be successful. (Probably do mostly to the stellar work of his eldest son, but whatever, ahem.) But I think he probably spent some time dreaming and praying for the day his prodigal would return. And I think he sometimes got angry with his prodigal for leaving. And he dealt with that. And I think he sometimes got sad, and then he dealt with that, too. And I think he sometimes thought he would never see the day his son returned. But, he kept his heart alive and open to his son. I think he did the emotional work that was necessary during that absence so on the miraculous day his son returned, he was able to show grace to the person who deserved it the very least.
Let’s face it, we all have prodigals and they all deserve our grace when they decide its time to come back home. Its our job to keep our hearts alive and open for them while they are away.