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What The Prodigal Son Taught Me

Updated on April 19, 2010

The parable of the Prodigal Son always confused me. To be honest, it flat-out bugged me. My issue was not with the son and his foolish behavior. It was the father. Specifically, I had an issue with the father’s response to his younger son’s return. A celebration? Are you kidding me? This kid demands his inheritance, squanders it then comes back home broken. For that, he is clothed in the best robe and adorned with a ring? I identified with the older brother. He never left his father’s side. Why wasn’t that cause for celebration? It was not fair; he had every right to be resentful.

Knowing there had to be something wrong for me to have such a negative reaction to one of Jesus’ teachings, I studied the parable hoping to gain a better understanding but it eluded me. One day, while discussing the Bible with my father, I confessed my difficulties with accepting the story.

“You know it is a lesson of forgiveness, right?” my dad asked after a long pause.

“Yes, I know,” I said.

“Maybe you have a problem with forgiving.”

I didn’t respond, but I knew that couldn’t be it. I was the one who extended the olive branch when pride and stubborn egos were wounded. I was the first to apologize and to accept apologies from others. I considered myself a peacemaker.

Later that night, though, during quiet time, my dad’s words hit me again. At that moment, I prayed to the Creator for comprehension.

I’d like to write that I received a revelation immediately, but I didn’t. There would be many more months of earnest praying and self-reflection before the light bulb would shine. And when it did, it wasn’t during an extraordinary event or circumstance. It occurred while goofing off with my older sister.

She and I were reminiscing about the “ good-old days” and engaging in the gentle teasing and playful banter we participated in as children. Suddenly, an overwhelming sense of gratefulness washed over me. For too many years, my sister was lost to the family. She chose to walk down a path of self-destruction and there was nothing we could do to prevent it. Every now and then, I would hear distressing stories of her whereabouts and activities. I prayed daily for God’s protection to cover her and for the demons controlling her to be cast aside. Now, here she was, back home. It felt good, but when she first returned I was skeptical. I wasn’t sure if she was sincere or if she was just making a pit stop before going back to the same destructive behaviors. My acceptance of her return was gradual and tentative. It was only after she settled down, secured employment and maintained a home that I was sure she had changed. Although I was proud of her, I was more than irritated that each milestone she achieved was greeted with effusive praise. I couldn’t remember receiving such adulation after accomplishing the same things.

It was then the off switch turned on and I understood why I identified so closely with the older brother. I was the older brother, conflicted by the joy of my sibling’s return and jealousy over the attention she received, especially after putting the family through so much heartache. I had been going through the act of forgiving, but I did not develop the capacity to forgive until that day. I made the decision to forget every wrong my sister had done and focus only on the future. The past no longer mattered.

My prayer for comprehension was answered, but I wasn’t happy with everything I learned. For all my good intentions, I still held on to worldly convictions. My outer appearance was pristine, but inside I was a mess. Most of the apologies I had accepted were for pretense. Mentally, I was keeping track of every slight and not allowing myself to forget. I had a lot maturing to do.

I also gathered a new sense of the depth of God’s love for us. How wonderful to know we have a Father who only requires our sincere repentance. Just like the parable, once we decide to turn away from sin and come back home, our Father forgives and celebrates our arrival.

I have since grown to love the parable and am reminded of it each time I am with my sister. Welcome home, Big Sis.


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