Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Prodigal(s).

Here he comes again; the prodigal son returns. Kill the fattened calf. Plan the party. In the background stands the loyal son always laboring for his dad’s affirmation questioning, “What just happened here? He’s getting a barbecue? I have worked my tail off my whole life, and you give HIM the party.”

I never really rebelled. I never really questioned authority figures, never sowed wild oats, never really upset my parents. I was always just there. Caryn, the “good one”; Caryn, the “prude”; that is who I was/am to many people. I fear embarrassment, disappointing the people around me, and following rules always makes sense to me.

Nowadays, I have an amazing marriage and three precocious and wonderful children. I am a minister’s wife. I am still the good one, the loyal friend, the loving wife, and the crazed young mom.

I have heard the story of the prodigal son more than once as the story is retold again and again through media in various formats. I have heard hundreds of sermons on it and every time I walk away feeling sad for the loyal son. I relate to him.

One of my temptations is to question everything. I don't intend to be disrespectful with questioning. I sincerely want explanations. This is how I see the loyal son. "Explain to me again, Dad, why it's so important to celebrate someone who has hurt you over and over again?" The dad explains it simply..."Everything I have is yours, son, everything. Isn't that enough?"

For years, I would let this story anger me, questioning the logic of rejoicing over a rebellious loser who only comes home because he has reached the refuse pit in life and has no where else to go. So the prodigal returns…to mooch…then leave again on the same path he crawled in on, so I thought.

I didn’t get it.

Today, I hope I am a little wiser. Today, I see why that daddy rejoiced and held a banquet for a son he thought he’d never see again.

While I don’t completely understand everyone’s struggles in life, I do recognize that everyone struggles differently with different things. The same temptation I have to go get my third brownie of the day…yes I said third…may be the same temptation someone else has to hook up with their third sex partner of the day. Everyone has a different struggle. Mine, as you can tell, has often been to judge everyone else’s trouble but my own.

Coming home after overeating is one thing, but coming home after wrecking your family emotionally over and over again is quite another. Confessing to overeating is cake…pardon the pun. Confessing to a life of lies and deception is a nightmare. Sometimes our sins only affect us, other times our sins wound countless numbers.

Jesus came and died to clean up all of us; brownie bingers and child-molesters… all of us. That is hard to hear isn’t it? It is hard to comprehend a God that holds us all accountable with our own abilities and with our own struggles, and yet is still just.

Confessing is a humbling business. One must be completely stripped of pride to take the walk home and then to look into their families eyes and hear, “Welcome, we’ve missed you.”

There are some experiences in life where we stand in the loyal son’s shoes. We choose whether or not to forgive. We are after all not the judge, nor the jury. We are, instead, the party planners, the brothers who set the table and wait anxiously to serve the meal. The loyal son, in my mind, learned how to act from the father.

The Father wants all of us to be willing to come home. He wants all of us to strip down our pride, admit to our weakness and stand before him flawed, yet loved. He is waiting with arms wide open. It doesn’t matter how big the transgression is. It also doesn’t matter how small. We made up the sin size charts…He did not.

In the end of all things, we are all the prodigals. We all make the choice whether or not to come home.


  1. Hey, I love the story of the prodigal son. We were just talking about it in relation to our topic "unconditional love" last Sunday morning for bible class. I mentioned that I used to relate to the older son more than the dad or the younger son (being the oldest, law-abiding kid) until I became a Christian. Until I realized that I was the lost son after all. Of course, becoming a parent has made me able to identify more with God the "father' in the story. I always enjoy talking about that story--and I enjoyed your down-to-earth commentary which puts it in a more personal perspective!

  2. Brilliant! Caryn you have such a gift in your writing- it seems to flow so naturally and it speaks volumes! I feel like God had you speaking directly to me and I just hope I can have the courage to speak up about my struggles and to lose the pride that comes wrapped in that ugly package. Thank you for coming to Livonia and thank you for being such a humble, transparent Christian!

    Sherry Roszkowski

  3. There is a secret life of a minister's wife? I wished I'd known. Minister's wife need a 'union' or a 'group' that can represent and protect them.
    Great website.
    I read a book as a young minister's wife (35 years ago) that made me realize I was human and to serve God the best way I could and the way others felt I should.
    Great thoughts! The parable should be called, The Elder Brother.

  4. Thanks everyone!

    In my life my role in the prodigal son story has shifted several times, but the majority of my time was/is spent with the older brother. I think it is safe to say he and I go way back. I've been trying to remind myself lately that...we all must make sure that even if we look together on the outside our hearts may not be in alignment with Christ. That to me is the very essence of the older prodigal.

    Thanks for reading!

  5. I have been both sons….as you know, Caryn. I was for far too long the wandering son, hurting myself and those close to me. Rarely do “our sins only affect us.” They usually inflict the most pain on those close to us. But what really caught my attention in this post was the “questioning of the logic of rejoicing over a rebellious loser who only comes home because he has reached the pit in life and has no where else to go.” I find that these sons are often the best exhibit of God’s grace of mercy. Offering gentle comfort because they know the pain. Offering unconditional love because they know the feeling of being unloved. Offering their guidance to the lost because they know the place. Offering an ear without judgement because they know how incredibly hard it is to admit weakness and seek forgiveness, especially if it’s not just for eating brownies. Rejoicing the loudest for God who rescued them. Shining the light and sharing the Word because they know it led them out of the darkness. Would Paul have been so strong without being the lost son? Would he have been able to spread the story of Jesus to those who most needed it without relating to their struggles? Isn’t it the lost sons who know the places to get lost? Who know the people who are lost? Who do their teaching not to those who are already seeking God’s forgiveness, but those who don’t even know it exists? Praise God for the lost sons!

  6. My dear friend Casey...that was beautifully written. You are absolutely right.

    My biggest faults in life have always been based on judgmental snobbery. My past haunts me because of the people I've hurt due to the things I've said in order to verbally crucify them. I am not proud of that.

    I completely agree with your question about Paul. The notion that Paul could be a murderer and still be loved and utilized my God reveals forgiveness that boggles the mind of someone who is as well-trained in judgment as I am.

    I am so thankful that God forgives us regardless of whether our sins are public or hidden behind a mask of skin-deep Christianity.

    Thank you for your comment. I hope to hear from you again.


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