The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 18 “On Prodigals”

Last Sunday was the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. The Orthodox Church remembers this Sunday yearly.It is one of three special Sundays preceding Great Lent. The first is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. The second is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, and the third is the Sunday of the Last Judgement.

prodigal sonAn icon of the son being received in a loving embrace by his father is displayed, a visual reminder of this relationship and the healing that comes as we move into the loving kindness of God. A special hymn is chanted:

When I disobeyed in ignorance Thy fatherly glory, I wasted in iniquities the riches that Thou gavest me. Wherefore, I cry to Thee with the voice of the prodigal son, saying, I have sinned before Thee, O compassionate Father, receive me repentant, and make me as one of Thy hired servants. – See more at: http://lent.goarch.org/prodigalson/learn/#sthash.VC88gYNt.dpuf

I’ve not met many people who don’t know this story — of a son who asked for his inheritance, essentially wishing the father dead. Of a father who gave that inheritance, the son squandering everything he had in the far places and then suddenly, in the squalor of a pigs sty, coming to his senses. “I’m going home” he says to himself. “I can’t live like this anymore. The pain of my choices is all too much. The servants in my father’s house live better than this.”

So he comes home. His father, who had waited for him all these years, daily looking out so he would be first to greet him when he finally made his way back home, runs to him. Of course, there’s the older brother sulking, angry that this little punk who had ruined his life was being treated as a long, lost treasure.

The story is about God – about this father that waits and longs for the return of his children.

I don’t know many parents that don’t have a prodigal, it seems to come with the territory. And we’re not God – so we don’t always wait patiently, daily looking to see if they will return home. Sometimes we spew angry words through letters or phone calls. Often we are so consumed with our hurt that we think harmful thoughts of these ones who we love so much, who we call our sons and daughters.

When you give birth you don’t know you’ll have a prodigal. You cradle that baby thinking you never loved so much and so hard. You laugh at that toddler’s faltering steps as they reach out to you, encouraging them each step. “You can do it! Come to mommy!” You write down the words and phrases, so funny to you alone. “Frogs sucking on my fingers.” “Let me go, let me jump, let me hurt my lip.” You brace yourself at kindergarten as you realize you are relinquishing some of your organized and tight control to a world that will not appreciate this child the way you do.

Each award and milestone leaves memories stamped in permanent ink in your mind. You try and capture some of this with pictures, but mostly its captured in the heart.

And then for many of us, prodigal years come and you never thought you’d hurt so much. You don’t know how to give God, the one who knows prodigals so well and loves them so much, your prodigal. The hurt comes and goes at odd times. You treasure occasional awkward phone calls and you confess. You go through your parenting like a fine tooth comb through a head of lice. Finding all the nits and lice of what you did wrong, ultimately having to rest in your imperfection and God’s abundant grace. It’s hard to express this to other people of faith — Because other people have ‘good’ children, and you apparently don’t.

They felt good eyes upon them and shrank within-undone; 

good parents had good children and they- a wandering one. 

The good folks never meant to act smug or condemn, 

but having prodigals just “wasn’t done” with them. 

Remind them gently, Lord, how you have trouble with your children too.*

But you slowly learn to hope and rest. You become more like the father, daily going out and praying, looking, but continuing about your business because that is what you’re called to do. The more you pray, the more you realize that you are a prodigal, continually wandering away from God, only to find out that there is no future in the far land. So you run home, and God the Father runs to meet you. 

So you pray, and you hope, and sometimes the day comes when this great schism ends. Only Heaven could possibly understand the joy in your heart.

All creation waits as the prodigal is in the far places. All of creation joins in celebration when the prodigal comes home. 

Every year, on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, I pray a prayer I have prayed more times than I could count. “Lord, Let all the prodigals come home.”

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5 thoughts on “The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 18 “On Prodigals”

  1. I’ve been struggling with this story for many years…from the perspective of God/human relationships is a a beautiful one of God’s perfect love and grace. Unfortunately we all are human and broken, we all make mistakes…including parents.

    Unfortunately for me my parents view the parent child relationship as one in which the parents authority makes them right (and I’ve realised over the years I’m not alone), my parents are at a loss as to why I have issues with them over how they parented me when they describe me as a child “they were proud of, and never saw as a problem”
    … but rebellion and unquestioning conformity have alot in common… children need to know they are loved and valued, or they will never come home. I often wonder how many parents have good and nice adult children they rarely hear from, and are unwilling to recognise that they too have taken their inheritance and run…

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    1. Good perspective and you are absolutely right that from the God/human perspective it is a beautiful story — but living in a broken world none of us can claim to be the ‘father’. And to your point of children needing to be loved – they need to know they are loved for who they are now. Not who we think they’ll become or who we think they are supposed to be. I’ve been grateful for gracious kids who are incredibly forgiving of my often misguided parenting. Thanks for being willing to bring this perspective forward.

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  2. I love, love, LOVE the story of the prodigal son. We are all prodigals, wandering from God and needing to come back, even if we, like me, have never looked it on the outside — I’ve always looked like the “good girl,” but I still have to come back to God, and quite often too. I am now in the stage of life that doesn’t believe I’ll ever have a prodigal child. I know this is ridiculous, and wrong, but I also think all of us in this stage think this way. I look back at my family of origin at this stage — my parents were young, newly dedicated Christians with young, well-behaved children. Full of hope for the future, and a good life now. They were the “glory days” as my father calls them (and he’s absolutely right). But it’s not that simple 20 years later, and I wonder how my story will change from the one I’ve created for myself in my mind. My best friend (the writer, and the one who always tells me I can’t quit writing, even when I threaten to) is about 15 years older than I am, and has been paying attention to these things for a bit longer than I have. She recently told me she has noticed that everyone is proud of their kids until they go to college. Then for several years they stop talking. Nobody knows what other people’s college-age children are doing. Are they going to church? Are they drinking? Are they sleeping around? Do they even believe in God anymore? Then, suddenly, one day, they decide to get married, and have kids. And they take those kids to church. Then the parents start talking about their kids (and grandkids) again. . . Today, through tears, I pray with you, “Lord, let all the prodigals come home.” Amen. ~Elizabeth

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    1. I love what your friend said. I was talking with a family member a while back and she made the statement that when it comes to college the parental playing field levels. her point was the same as that of your friend’s. We go silent, often going into guilt mode of what did we do wrong. And maybe those years are supposed to be silent to some extent. Maybe they should be the pondering years where we remember and trust. Would love to talk about this with you over coffee or tea – but since we can’t I thank you for joining in and for praying with me.

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      1. I like my coffee drenched white with milk, hot in America, and iced in Cambodia. :)Maybe someday we’ll get to drink some together. . . I have been blown away by the lessons from the first two pre-Lenten Sundays, and how they have corresponded with what’s going on in my life and mind right now (wow), so I am looking forward to hearing about the last.

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