Today, I got the surprise of my life.
It started out as the heaviest day I have ever known, because I came face to face with my own self-centered foolishness. As I was slogging through the mud to feed the swine, I realized my rebellion had cost me everything.
I had cheated, taken my inheritance early and run off on my own, in an attempt to find my freedom. And I had lost everything.
I was utterly alone, until I ended up with these swine.
Now, here I was, day to day, feeding beasts, who ate better than I did, living like an animal. This was not freedom!!
While I was indulging in the high life, I barely thought of my family at all. And when I did, it was to scornfully proclaim how glad I was to finally be free of them.
But out in the muck and mire of the pig sty, I couldn’t stop thinking about them, or how much I missed them. What I missed the most was my father’s laughter.
He had one of those belly laughs that started from deep within, and welled up from inside of him, until his entire face turned red and he was bubbling from head to toe with his mirth. It used to embarrass me, but at that point, I would have given just about anything to hear my father laugh like that again, even from a distance.
My face became extra-caked with mud this morning, as the grime from my hands mingled with my unrestrained tears, when I tried to wipe them away from my eyes.
Up until that point, I had been running away from the shame of my gross selfishness. But I found that I couldn’t run from myself, and I couldn’t run from God.
Never again would I find a place of honor at my father’s table, but it was time to return to those I deeply loved, even if I could only see and hear them from a distance.
My father had many servants. Maybe, if I approached him very humbly, he would give me a job. Even if it meant feeding pigs for the rest of my days, at least then, I could still see his face sometimes, see him romance my mother and swing around my nieces and nephews, hear his laughter from afar….
So I threw down my slop bucket and started home….all the way, rehearsing what I would say, in hopes that my father would not turn me away, as I knew I deserved. “Father, I know I have sinned terribly. I have neither appreciated nor honored God nor you.. I am so sorry, Father….I know you can never look at me as your son again. But please, Father, accept me as your servant….”
I practiced it until I knew it off by heart, and I only hoped that my weeping wouldn’t prevent me from getting the words out. Father had never been one to accept sob stories or excuses, and I’d only have one chance to get it right.
As I neared my childhood home, I felt I was choking on my heart.
Then I saw something I never in my life expected to see. My father was running down the road, in reckless abandon, toward me. This man, who had always had the respect of the entire community, had laid his dignity aside, and was running!!
Before I could utter a single word, he had thrown his arms around me and was squeezing me so tight I thought I would be crushed. And he was weeping tears of joy, so that the filth on me washed off onto him and his fine attire, and it didn’t seem to bother him in the least!!
“My son, my son,” he sobbed, “you have finally come home. I have missed you so much.”
There was no time to think, after that. Before I knew it, I was bathed and robed in luxurious attire, seated at my father’s right hand. The entire village had been invited for a feast, and the merry-making went well into the night. No memory of this unexpected celebration will stay with me more clearly than my father’s unabashed laughter.
I just sat there, taking it all in. I was filled with a deep sense of humble appreciation for my father’s unfailing love. How can I help but serve him with devotion for the rest of my days?