Most everyone is familiar with the story of the prodigal son. Luke 15 records this and other stories that Jesus was sharing with his diverse group of listeners as He emphasized the value of people. He shared about a lost coin, a lost sheep and then a lost child. In each instance there was great rejoicing when that which was lost, was finally found.
In the case of the lost son, the prodigal who wasted his inheritance with wild living and found himself destitute, living among hogs. We’re told he came to his senses and made his way home to beg for a place among the hired servants, only to be met with the extravagant grace and love of his father who restored him as a son and celebrated his return home with a great feast.
I encounter people all the time who are spiritual runaways, prodigals who have left home. The details of every story are always unique, but the phases of the prodigal always seem to bear a similar theme. There were years of my life that were wasted during what I would call prodigal years. The journey home was difficult but rewarding. The journey itself marked my life forever. In short, these are the all too familiar phases that I experienced personally and I continue to see in the life of most prodigals I meet.
The first phase seems to be Restlessness, marked with selfishness that leads to Recklessness that’s marked with senselessness. Then comes Ruin that sometimes leads to Godly sorrow… when sorrow and brokenness are complete, they will lead us home to experience Restoration and all shame is removed by the father.
Home is always where we will find everything we need and everything we think we’re looking for elsewhere.
You may be familiar with the story from the 1930’s of a fourteen-year-old girl who came home one afternoon and broke the news to her father… a stern, dogmatic, religiously churchgoing man… that she was pregnant. As the story goes, his reaction was no surprise to her. She had seen him angry before. But being disowned at fourteen? Where was she supposed to go?
Believing no other option was available, she traveled from her home in Baton Rouge to New Orleans, eighty miles south. Maybe I can find work there, she figured. Surely something would pan out.
The streets of New Orleans were no place for a young teen. Alone, scared, desperate for a way out of her pain, she birthed her baby and jumped at the first job she could find. Prostitution is not a glamorous path, but it proved to be lucrative for the now fifteen year old mom. Not only did she become good at the job, she became a smart, savvy businesswoman too. Years later she would own her own brothels and die with more money than she ever could have spent, had she lived another lifetime more.
On her deathbed, the frail and failing woman plotted the tombstone she desired for her grave. On it was etched a replica of a large front porch of her childhood home, with a young teenage girl peeking through the front window. Below the image were six words that summed up her wayward life: “I just want to come home.”
Today she is buried in a small country cemetery in a southern Louisiana town. She lived and died and never knew what it felt like to be welcomed home.
This story breaks my heart, but I’m reminded that there has never been a prodigal so far off that God’s reach didn’t stretch farther still. There is healing and hope in the One who points prodigal feet toward home.
Greg Richards is lead pastor at Life Church, located on the square in Kaufman. YourLifeChurch.com