A few days ago I retold the story of the Lost Son (or the Prodigal Son) – if you missed it, you can read it HERE – and, honestly, I’d suggest you do before you carry on. Really.
That story has been used by the Christian Church for generations to explain what happens when you go off on your own, when you step out from how things should be. It’s a story of wilfulness, of wasting life on trivia and wanton behaviour – and of a Father’s love, once the son turns round and admits he got it wrong, is welcomed back into the safety of the family again (and puts the older brother’s nose out of joint).
But is it? Is it about ‘going your own way’ and the dangers of immorality? Did the younger son really screw up and make the wrong decision? I’m not so sure. Over the last few months, this story has become very precious to me, for all sorts of reasons. And, honestly, I’m rooting for the younger son. Cause I think he got it right.
Imagine the plight of the younger son, always in his elder brother’s shadow. He knows that the family business will eventually fall to his brother. He knows that his brother will get the larger share of the inheritance – that’s just the way things were in Israel at that time. He knows that the larger blessing of his father will go to his brother. So what can he do?
He decides to go out and make a name for himself on his own. He gets his resources together, going to his father to ask for his portion of the family fortune early (and that in itself was a ballsy move) and sets out for a distant country to make a name for himself. I suspect he planned going back to his family as a wealthy and successful businessman in his own right.
And I’m with him all the way.
Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t work out the way he intended. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he fell in with the wrong crowd. Perhaps his struggles to make his business succeed caused him to stretch his resources to breaking point. Perhaps he got distracted from his goal. I don’t know – and it doesn’t matter. Because that’s not the point. This isn’t a story about how you can go wrong and move away from your blessing. It’s a story that shows that all the resources that you need are right at hand. And in that sense, it’s not really a story about a lost son at all.
Our hero finally found himself starving, out on the streets and unable to find a way out. And you’d be surprised how many of my mentors have been in exactly the same place. On the streets. Bankrupt. Out of work. Stuck in failure. Because only when they get to the bottom of their own resources do they realise that there’s another way. Only then are we going to recognise what’s really real.
Our hero eventually (in the bible story, at least) found himself feeding the pigs. That’s about as low as it can get for a good Hebrew boy – feeding the animals that the Hebrews themselves won’t touch. But he’s missed something – something that he only finds when he decides to return to his father.
You see, he thinks that he’s had his chance. He thinks he’s had his shot, and he failed. All he can do is to crawl back as a failure and ask for a servant’s job. But that’s not the way his father sees it at all.
You see, the resources of the father still belong to the son. At any moment he could reach out and take hold of them. At any moment he could step back into a position of power. Guilt, shame, and embarrassment stopped him. But everything he needed was available for asking. This isn’t about the father’s forgiveness – I’m a father, and I will tell you right now it has nothing to do with forgiveness. If one of my sons screws up, forgiveness and restitution isn’t ever a question. It’s guaranteed. Not forgiving, not welcoming him back would simply not be an option for me.. simply because I’d have to stop being a father at that point. In truth, the only lesson he needs to learn is how much I love him.
We’re in the same position, you and I. No matter how badly we’ve screwed up, no matter how badly we might think we’ve got it wrong – no matter how stupid we think we may have been, and how many bad choices we think we might have made.. all the resources we need are still available to us. We didn’t make ourselves ineligible. Because that’s impossible. We are still unlimited, powerful, incredible beings. We still have infinite creative power. We still have the resources of the universe behind us.
We still, always, have a choice whether to wallow in failure and self pity, to look continually at the disaster that has befallen us..
. or to raise our eyes to the sky, to stand up tall, to recognise our inheritance and the truth of who we are, and return to our rightful place as gifted individuals with a story to tell and a purpose to fulfill.
I’ll choose that every time.