I love a good story. And I come from a long line of good storytellers.
I don’t mean my family members are liars since that’s the mental image that often comes to mind when you use the word “storyteller.” I simply mean that many members of my family have been good at taking words and crafting them into pictures in your head you can almost physically see.
Growing up, I would often enjoy listening to my parents, grandmother and several other members of my family as they would sit around the living room or kitchen table and weave tales about life when they were younger. I was often mesmerized by the things they had done, the places they had been and the tough times they had survived.
That’s probably why I began writing poems and stories at such an early age. I wanted to record things they had told me or things that just seemed to be floating around in my head. It most likely had an impact on the career path I chose in the early part of my life. The newspaper business gave me lots of experiences. Being able to listen to someone talk and then make a creative news story (aka a “feature”) out of it was one of my favorite parts.
The Bible is filled with a lot of stories, too, and many of them are crafted in some of the most beautiful language. There are numerous stories on those pages – or web pages since I use Bible Gateway online a lot these days – I have grown to love for one reason of another.
While doing some of the tasks at home today that I’ve been putting off, I began thinking about the story of the prodigal son. It is probably one of my favorite stories found in the Bible. I’m certain most everyone is familiar with it – younger son gets restless and is drawn to the bright lights and opportunities of the big city, demands his inheritance from his father, moves to said big city, quickly goes through his inheritance and finds himself doing menial labor and eating out of the pigs’ trough.
After awhile, the son realizes that being at home with his father wasn’t so bad and he swallows his pride – which was probably all he had left by that time. The son makes the decision to go back home and beg his father to allow him to become a worker on their family farm.
Although the story in the Bible doesn’t give us a true account of what the father was doing during the time his son was living it up in the city, it would be fairly easy to imagine what the father was doing. Especially since we know the father was probably a good man. Most likely the father was at home spending a whole lot more time on his knees praying for his son and asking God to not only protect him but to bring him back home. I’m certain, too, during his day-to-day tasks, the father would find himself gazing in the direction of the city wishing his son would leave there. There were probably times when the father would think, “I’m just gonna get in my truck and go bring that boy home!” But he didn’t because the father knew the son was learning life changing lessons that he could never teach the son at home.
One of the most beautiful parts of the story to me happens toward the end of it where the son is on his way back to his home and the father catches a glimpse of him walking up the road. Instead of sitting down on the porch and waiting for the young man to get there, the father instructs those around him to call everyone together and get a huge celebration supper ready because his boy is heading home.
Not content to wait for the young man to get to the house to greet him, the father runs - not saunters or walks - toward him. Thinking about the story I can see one of the best examples of what I’ve heard called a “man embrace” ever written. The father doesn’t just pat his son on the back or shake his hand, but he takes the young man fully into his arms and hugs him as he has never hugged him before.
He didn't care where the boy had been, what he had done or even what his motives were for his return. The father was just purely glad the boy was finally home.
I guess I like the story of the prodigal son because I see a lot of myself in the characteristics and actions of the young man. I never packed up everything I owned and left my parents’ home for a large metropolitan destination. Although there was a period of my life that I did want to seek fame, fortune and other things in New York City, I never got enough courage up to go.
Although I hate to admit it, there have been numerous times when I have packed up my life and moved it away from the will of God for one reason or another. Sadly, some of the reasoning behind these decisions seemed perfectly right to me at the time, too.
But just as the father in this story, my Heavenly Father was patient with me each and every time I strayed. I’m certain He didn’t like my actions and didn’t agree with my thought process at the time, but He allowed me to go. I’m almost certain that He watched me as I walked away and shook His head at the ignorance of my decisions. And I think there were probably times when He wanted to rush in and make me change my mind.
He didn’t, though. Instead He waited patiently for me to realize that life outside of Him is really not where I am destined to live. That even though it might seem easier to me to do things my way, He knew I had to come to the realization that His way was the best – and only – way for me to live.
I’ve recently returned from a period of being a prodigal. Just as with every other time, it was difficult and sometimes even dark. But just like every other time, I learned great lessons about grace, mercy and the true character of God.
I have even learned more about freedom.
Although I’d like to say I won’t wander again and that this determination to live my life wholly and fully for Him won’t fade this time, I know myself. I’ve been excellent at failing. But this time seems a bit different.
With all the shifting and change – some that has been so painful I didn’t think I could bear it – I have told several people that I truly believe God is getting me ready for a man, a mission or a ministry.
God does give us direction, yet faith is sometimes like walking with a map written in an ancient language you can't read or translate too easily. You can’t always see the places you’re heading because you can't read them, but you can see the trail to follow marked clearly to your destination.
That’s what life has been for me – I’ve known much of my life that God truly had a plan, I just couldn’t seem to see it much of the time. I have often used the analogy that my life was like a 1000 piece puzzle that was stored in an old shoe box. I knew there was a picture there to be completed, I just had difficulty putting the pieces together since I wasn’t able to see that big picture.
God has recently revealed to me a larger portion of the picture for my life. And it is good. Even armed with that information, though, I still don’t know the timeframe when it will come to pass. He has told me time and time again recently, though, that it’s all temporary. I’ve had to laugh each time I’ve heard Him say it because temporary is one of those words that can’t easily be plotted on a time chart. Temporary can mean an hour, a week, three months, five years or almost a lifetime. Temporary can sometimes feel like forever.
I’ve pretty much decided, though, that temporary in this case simply means soon.
Growing up, my mother would often tell me “we’ll see” when I would ask her about doing something. I learned quickly as a child that “we’ll see” was just her way of nicely telling me it was never, ever gonna happen. I hated that because it seemed to build a feeling of false hope in my life. I grew to despise that phrase so much that I have gotten angry with friends who have responded with it when I’d ask about something we had planned to do or something I really wanted to do.
Ironically enough, God has recently given me the “we’ll see” connected to the big picture He is leading me toward. But I don’t bristle as much now when He says it because I understand that He actually defines the phrase as "wait and see."
For now, that’s what I’m doing - somewhat patiently waiting. Not sitting back in a recliner with a remote control flipping through my life. But actively getting to know Him better and learning to serve Him more while I wait to see the next chapter that He is writing in that epic novel called my life.
All I know for certain is: it’s gonna be good.