Even a non-reader of the Bible probably knows the story of the prodigal son. While they might not be able to tell you the book, chapter, and verse of the Bible, they do know the basics. They know of a boy who grew up knowing right from wrong and then wandered away from his beliefs and background. This is a universal story of a person growing up into adulthood through the process of making poor decisions.
It is a familiar story to non-believers and believers alike, but it is a painful story for all parents. Its words haunt me as a Christian father. I do not want my children to grow up through mistakes and poor judgment. I want them to do what is right every day for the rest of their lives. For this reason, I continually go to Luke 15 and read this story with my eyes wide open.
When I read this story, I find a few important reminders for me.
1. The Father is Overly Permissive. The story begins with a boy asking for his inheritance. He is basically telling his father that he would rather he was dead. If my children came to me and said, “Dad, I wish you were dead, now give me my share as if you were.” I would say unequivocally, “No way.” Yet, this father who represents God sees a bigger picture. He knows the heart of a young person and doesn’t fight it. Maybe there is little value is yelling them out the door.
2. The Possibility of Prayer. It is not mentioned in the story, but I know this as a parent. I pray and pray and pray for my children. I would like to imagine this dad taking every opportunity to ask God to open his son’s eyes and heart.
3. Plan for a Painful Return. I cannot escape the image of the father seeing his son from a long way off. I picture this old man looking down the road every day with tears in his eyes. I imagine him questioning his own actions. “What did I do wrong as a parent?” And yet, each day he watches and waits, never giving up.
4. He Loves “In Spite Of.” When his son returns, he runs down the road and embraces him. His actions are full of forgiveness and love. He does not question his past or the depths to which he has sunk. The past is left behind, and the focus is on the future.
5. The Place in the Family is Restored. The boy comes home with a speech about how he is willing to live as a hired hand. The father in his grace returns him to his rightful place as a son. There appears to be no lingering judgment or subtle anger toward the boy.
I often wonder if I could be like this father. The parable is about God and reveals his perfect actions as a father therefore I must ask myself, how much I am like God. As my boys go out into the world, I know there will be prodigal seasons. I ask God to let them be short and educational. But I also ask God to prepare me for their actions while he is teaching them.
The prodigal heart is natural for anyone to understand. Finding the father’s heart is difficult for everyone.