I do not know if it was his own desire or if something compelled him to leave, but I do understand that many things impact our youthful decisions as we venture into the world on our own and often without Jesus.
I can relate to the story of Prodigal Son though the details of my personal version of it are somewhat rearranged. At some basic level, the story is the same in that I first wanted to leave home in order to find my own success and secondly, had run into a brick wall that I could not penetrate which prevented the objects of my desire. As a result, I cannot help but to play these various scenarios in my mind. What if the prodigal son had decided to stay home or upon leaving, had been successful? What if he had been too proud to return to his father’s home upon his defeat? What if his father had not stood with open arms upon his return?
At another level, there were also some glaring dissimilarities. Certainly, when I left home at 18, I had not been blessed with half my father’s estate. (What if I had been?) In fact, my parents had been divorced for most of my life and it was my mother’s home from which I had departed. Ever the gypsy, I had traded my guitar for an old steamer trunk and packed it with Midwestern items that in retrospect, were ridiculous for the Sun Belt climate to which I was heading. Nevertheless, with my limited knowledge and reach in the world at that time, I packed it with things that I thought were important based on those items that had satisfied prior personal needs.
I had not thought of the future results of my actions (another similarity), though I am certain that at that age I argued that I had. I wish that I could tell you that this was an Abraham moment, but it was not. Though I had already been introduced to the church through a public profession of Christ as my Savior at a Wisconsin camp the summer before I started high school, I was still strongly influenced by the curiosity of other ‘religions’ and my own personal desires. I am glad to report that I have resolved a good portion of the first but am sorry to admit that the later still impacts me today. Perhaps that is why I still struggle with the first. Disappointed with the choice that others have brought forth, it seems the only “god” I have left is me. But, I too, have seen my failures.
For the record, I will state that my brief introduction to Christ by a neighborhood family who had been ‘born-again’ actually contributed to my desire to leave the area, but was only one of the many reasons why I left home. I had ‘tried’ Christ on for a time and then realized that the ‘born-again’ family was in crisis with Christ even beyond the events that my own family had struggled without Him. I had thought, “They are just as messed up as us, so what is the difference?” I could see none. In reality, I could really see nothing.
Somewhere in the teaching/learning process, the concept of pointing to the cross of Christ and saying “This is what God has done for you” got lost in the pointing to things like wealth and possessions while using the same phrase. Still, in their inadequacies and my own blind stupidity, I thank them for trying to convey the Gospel. After years of struggle, I had been reintroduced to the Word of God to the point where I actually understood why the Gospels all sounded like the same story. Or, I should say that at least I had evolved enough in my understanding beyond my initial reading when I had proclaimed out loud to the amusement of several people, “Why are they all saying the same thing?”
You can laugh now, but it is a story I like to tell because once we are given illumination, it can be hard to remember the time when we were in darkness. Believe me when I say that I was frightened by attempts at “evangelization” through Armageddon movies by people who had gotten so deep into the ‘interpretation’ of scripture from the book of Revelation that they may have forgotten the simple, fundamental and literal truths. It is, after all, these truths that we need the most in leading us to better decisions and ultimately, to a Risen Lord. Please don’t get me wrong, I believe that there is a final judgment and this is an important truth, but I am opposed to ‘scaring people’ to Christ. Though, there may be times when a good scare is just what some individual needs.
I have since left many jobs, locations, and relationships. I admit that I have at times done this with the same lack of forethought about the consequences of my actions for myself and other people as I had when I first left my home. Amazingly, I have also been enabled to do so with complete awareness that resulted in broken bondage so that I could be released to do better things with my life. As a result, when packing my trunk, I have taken a little more time to consider the level and quality of its’ contents. Yes, for fear that I might wrinkle some truth that had been placed on the bottom. Or worse, that I would reach into my trunk and pull out 14 sweaters but few shorts, tank tops and flip flops. So, I have also taken more time to remove some of the items that may give people some small justification to move on before they even have a chance to learn why the Gospels ‘repeat’ themselves. I make this small effort even though it is hard to say what makes one (wo)man wander and one (wo)man stay. Ultimately, our own hearts must submit to the work of God in them. We must also remember that it is not our place to guard the gate if God is calling someone to walk through it.
I have traveled many roads. I have packed, unpacked, and repacked my trunk with many things. I have purchased new trunks. Sometimes, I have even remembered to fill it with my Father’s riches. Other times, I have pulled out a bathing suit when I needed boots. But in all these activities, I have become increasingly aware that I should have taken an extra moment to consider my ultimate direction and purpose and what, correction, who I might need along the way.
I had become too familiar with the familiar and had forgotten the simplicity of the understanding that I had already obtained and had falsely believed that I could enhance my awareness simply because I was in another physical location or understood ‘some thing’ at some deeper level. I had packed my trunk for new destinations with items that made me safe in the past-without realizing that they only made sense for where I was already located. That should have been my first clue.
In my own attempt to extend my reach for a risen Savior through hastily laid plans and strife even while attempting to be still, I did not understand that what I sought was not in the physical realm where the right fee and a ticket could get you to your location. I was not even remotely aware of the one thing that I needed most to bring with me as I began these many journeys-the simple understanding of Jesus Christ.
Scripture does not spell out whether the Prodigal or his family had scriptural awareness, but both his actions and those of his father indicate a deep understanding of the act of submission and the heart of the Lord. But just as the Prodigal had packed up and left without the guidance of his father, I had established a life-long precedence without my Father, too. My trunk was packed only with my pride and a destination that I had determined. Upon arrival, I found that I could adjust to the needs of a particular season, but I could not make any permanent change. My heart still wore winter clothes even near the equator. And even with all of my preparation, I was still so unprepared. Thank God the story does not end with the Prodigal longing to eat the pig food. Mine does not end there, either.
Gradually, desperately and for fear of suffocation, I was forced to peel off the layers. I had thought it was a wardrobe issue. But, I could not continue to put on shorts over my winter clothes. God knows I tried. But, it was clear that I must shed the layers of rags that had kept me warm in the past-all of it that had so completely covered my head, my body, my heart. Slowly unencumbered, I began to understand why the family that had witnessed to me had unraveled. They had changed their location, but their hearts were still a work in process-just like mine. Finally, after trying on so many clothes and the burden of carrying so much around with me to make sure that I was prepared for any season, I thought that I would give Jesus another try. May-be for the first time.
When I made my last move, I left my trunk at the curb. I do not need so great a trunk to carry the simple knowledge that I enjoyed so long ago when I first read those Gospels in their entirety. And in so doing, to run to my Father in heaven who has been waiting with opened arms for so very long. I do not need to worry if I am dressed in the right season or in the right location. I need only understand that my heart is changed by Him and for Him, and that I can always come home.
Reference: The Story of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15, NIV
The Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John