Prodigals

 

prodigal son 2Through all the flannel graph retellings and VBS skits and heart-wrenching life stories of the selfish prodigal son, I envisioned God having mercy on me. Isn’t that what the story is about? Self-centered, self-serving, immature whippersnapper goes off to prove he (she) knows best. Enjoys independent, riotous living until the funds run out. Learns hard moral of own life story. Returns home with remorse and wisdom. Greeted with unconditional paternal love. Goody two-shoes brother is jealous. Happily ever after. The end.

Well, yes, that is what the story is about…but there’s more to it than that. This past Sunday, Pastor John presented insight I had never known before regarding this story: ‘prodigal’ has two meanings.

1.  recklessly extravagant

2. lavishly abundant

Both of the sons were  prodigally selfish: the younger with his desire to have what he wanted, when he wanted, and the elder child was thinking only of his loyalty to his father, not the joy of his brother’s safe return.  Both sons were prodigally immature, neither thinking of the eventual effects of their behaviors. The young whippersnapper took his money and ran to pleasure without a plan for his future, and the self-absorbed elder missed the point of his brother’s return.

The parable does not tell how long the young son was gone. He may have quickly spent his inheritance on wine, women, and song, or he may have rollicked in revelry for years. We know that it was several seasons because he had to endure a famine and survive on his own for a while after.

The son who stayed at home must have been aware of his father’s worry for the lost child. But rather rejoice upon the child’s return, the elder brother begged for his father’s attention. Luke 15, verses 28 and following recount, “Then he  became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ ”  I imagine this son blocking the father’s view of the homecoming party, waving his hands in front of his dad’s face, begging for attention. How lost this son was, too, lacking so much compassion. Lacking in joy for the revelation his brother had experienced. So prodigal in his ignorance.

Oh, but the prodigal father. The lavishly abundant father. So patient with both sons in their impatience. So wise in the midst of their ignorance. So gentle in the midst of their tumult. Oh, precious prodigal father.

I know that I screw up. Daily, I want to smack myself in the forehead or on the wrists or otherwise punish myself for my own stupidity. I react in ignorance instead of waiting for discernment. I respond to momentary circumstances instead of considering enduring outcomes. I am selfish and ungrateful for what I have, and I seek more of what I don’t really need.

But for as rotten as I am, God is prodigally good. He regulates my imbalanced selfish scale. He erases my stupidity with his hugs of grace. He welcomes me into his perfect presence with open arms rather than shunning me for my foolish humanity.

Lamentations 3, verses 22 and 23 remind me

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

Prodigal Father, I beg protection from my own prodigal self. Daily. Amen.

prodigal son

 

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Dear me of tomorrow,

Dear me of tomorrow,

By this time tomorrow night, you may know the answer you’ve been waiting a week to hear…whether or not you got the job. They said they hoped to have a decision made by ‘next Friday’, which is tomorrow. Yet, as dubious as your feelings have been this week, you question whether or not the decision will actually be made by their deadline.

You’ve doubted your answers to the interview questions, especially #10. But you counter that doubt with the fact that you had your own thought-provoking questions for them. You’ve wondered if you came across strong enough to handle the job, and you counter that with ‘Bob knows me…he knows my capabilities…he’ll speak up for my strength’. You’ve hoped that they haven’t interviewed anyone else more qualified…and you’ve comforted yourself with the 16 years of experience you have under your belt. You’ve pondered if they really liked you, and then you remember that they sought you. You’ve questioned yourself many times ‘Am I making this opportunity out to be a ‘dream job’ when it really isn’t?’ But then you wisely compare it to your current job and the other one for which you interviewed just the day before this interview. You know this job. You’ve done this job before. This is a dream job…and it’s okay to want it.

Oh, me of tomorrow…I can’t wait to meet you. I want to jump up and down and hug you and cry with you and celebrate that phone call. I want to grab you by the shoulders and look you in the eyes and say ‘I knew it! I knew it was the perfect job for you!’ I want to call friends and say, ‘I got it! Praise God! I got it!’ and do a happy dance. I want to see the sparkle in your eye  that has been hidden for six years and that wry smile that is so perfect for this job. I want to start the organizing process of what goes to your new classroom and what stays home and what finally gets thrown away. And I want to start that with your sparkly eyes and your not-a-secret-anymore smile tomorrow night…after that call comes.

And, me of tomorrow, if that call doesn’t turn out to be what you so hope, then remember all the other times.  you’ve thought you had something pegged only to find out later that you were wrong, wrong, wrong. I’ll be here if that happens, just as I have been in the past. I’ll be here with a cup of tea, some tissues, probably some cookies, and some reassurance that it’s okay that it wasn’t meant to be. Because if it wasn’t meant to be, then something else is…something greater for you. And you’ll know that it’s all true and not just trite.

Precious me of tomorrow, you are an amazing person borne of amazing experiences, full of life and love to share with the right recipients. And just as you have waited for tomorrow to come, you can indeed wait for the perfect situation in which to find fulfillment. It will come. I promise. I know…because it always has before.

Love and admiration and patiently waiting,

The you of today

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The opposite of worry

I was obsessively fretting this morning. It’s a familiar feeling unfortunately. Distracted from everything I’m supposed to be doing. Picking apart one idea over and over. Wishing everyone would leave me alone so I could just worry.

What if? When? But if? Why? Could…? Should…? AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

And then, God thumped me in the head. I was at school, in the middle of testing a student, but actually, I was looking out the window, lost in my thoughts. Suddenly, I little bird flew over and landed on the ground outside my window. It started picking the flowers/seeds off a little weed that was growing in the corner of the building. It sat there and ate and ate for several minutes…just as satisfied as it could be. I was fascinated. What I thought was a useless weed was a life source for that little fella.

I mentally rolled my eyes at the ‘God provides for the birds, so I know he’ll provide for me, so I should stop worrying…’ thought. But there it was, right in front of me. A happy little bird chomping away on his sustenance, not fluttering around in a distracted dither. Sure, the little fella had to look for the food, but it was there.

Then it occurred to me…the opposite of worry is action.  Worry is all in the head. I need to get out of my head and get to work. Instead of fretting, I need to focus on the tasks in front of me…finishing this school year and all its mounds of  paperwork, figuring out a birthday gift for my amazing husband, getting supplies ready for Kids Night Out at church. God has provided plenty for me, and I need to tend to what he’s given. He will continue to provide for me, and I’ll see those provisions when they are ready.

When God created Adam and Eve, he gave them a job…tend to the garden and the animals. He wanted them to be active and purposeful. He wanted them to be lively participants in their existence. When they got distracted by the nagging voice that made them worry and doubt, they got themselves in trouble. Eternal trouble. That’s what worry does...infinite damage.

God’s plan is for me to be doing what is in front of me while he takes care of what’s not in front of me yet. Tending to my flocks, gathering food, keeping my family clean, filling out my reports and eliminating my piles of end-of-year paperwork. Truly, this is all I can handle. I MUST leave the rest up to him.

Credit: digitalbirdphotography.com

Matthew 6:26-27, 31-34

26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?   31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

To read another example of how birds have shamed me, try I Know Why the Early Bird Sings.

Expectantly

It is with expectation that I put my interview clothes on

on my day off.

With expectation I keep my phone at the ready,

With expectation I write down the questions I have

about the new workplace.

In faith, I go about my errands,

Trying not to drink too much caffeine, IMG_0024

Realizing I could really benefit from some gum,

Jumping a bit when the phone rings (Hi, mom).

I know the real call will come

I know they will want me to ‘come by when you can so we can talk’

And I want to be ready.

I am ready.

Watched pots

A watched pot never boils, they say…oh, but it will eventually, if you stand there long enough watching. And if you’re willing to waste that kind of time. And if the heat is on…

Clicking on my inbox doesn’t make that desired email come…but it might come eventually. If I sit here long enough refreshing. And if I’m willing to waste that kind of time…And emotional energy.

Staring at my phone won’t make it ring…but it will ring eventually. If I wait long enough. And if I’m willing to waste that kind of time…And emotional energy.

I’m waiting for some news…and it hasn’t come yet. And I find myself obsessively clicking on my inbox, glancing at my phone, beginning to wonder if the news is ever going to come.

While all around me, prayers are being answered…operations are going successfully, meetings run smoothly, finances are settled peacefully, arguments are ended amiably…

Pots are boiling…given their fair share of time and heat.

*sigh* The time is in abundance here…I guess I’m feeling the heat…And I reckon I should pray instead of wasting my time and emotional energy.

James 5:16-18 reminds me…The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. Elijah, for instance, human just like us, prayed hard that it wouldn’t rain, and it didn’t—not a drop for three and a half years. Then he prayed that it would rain, and it did. The showers came and everything started growing again.

It’s the waiting

It’s the waiting that’s the hardest…

The imagining is easy.

I can dream it’s all roses and sunshine and coffee and doughnuts…

I picture the colors, the scents, the enthusiasm, the rush…

I’ve lived it before and loved it so dearly.

But now…

there are no colors…it’s all gray

there are no scents…it’s all air

there is no enthusiasm…just nothingness

the only rush is in my impatience…

I know fulfillment will come,

but for now…

it’s the waiting that’s the hardest.

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photo credit: www.keithcraft.org

Endure

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#Lent2015 #rethinkchurch

Endure

Isaiah 40:27-31

27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
    and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
    and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint.

Oh mercy….

The three year old sighed exasperatedly and said, “Oh mercy!” as she walked through the kitchen. Sticking magnets to the wooden kitchen drawers had not worked out as she planned, and she was now on to something more productive. I smirked at her burdened tone. Life is so hard when you’re three. Then, I realized, ashamedly, that she had learned that expression, the sigh and the exclamation, from me. That’s my token phrase of vexation…and my plea, I think.

Why do I say it? Mercy? It’s a kind of  reminder, I think, to help me to remember to be patient, forgiving, accepting in moments of frustration. It also keeps me from saying things that would be inappropriate for little ears to hear.

I had a teacher in high school who claimed that mercy was her ‘gifting’. I disagreed. She was preferential, manipulative, and hypocritical. I did not learn merciful traits from her. But she did cause me to begin to wonder what mercy looked like. I think it was more like the teacher who understood someone’s phobia of public speaking and let him turn in a written report instead. Or the coach who didn’t ream out his players when they lost dreadfully to a more affluent school than ours. Or the teacher who bought a winter coat for a child whose mother wouldn’t even realize her son needed one. Or even the student who began a shoe collection for families who lived in landfills in other countries. Yeah, those were merciful actions.

I try not to get impatient at stoplights when the car ahead of me won’t go…maybe it’s a mom looking for that all important pacifier. Or waiting for her child to sit correctly in the car seat before she will drive. When a driver zooms past me on the road, I say a little prayer for their safety…maybe they are taking their child to the ER. Or they’ve just gotten a call about their own parents’ health. When that coworker will not shut up in the meeting, I try to realize that she just needs affirmation and remind myself to say something nice to her when I can.

I don’t want to enable negative behaviors in people’s lives. But I also don’t know their whole stories. If they heard my snarky comments, saw me recklessly driving, watched me lose my temper, I would hope that rather than gossip or judge, they would just say a little prayer for me and plead, “Oh mercy!”