I recently heard a modern (true story) version of the prodigal son: A young guy inherited a large sum of money from his father when he was 18. He immediately moved out and spent years living wildly and blowing his money. He went through champagne and women like disposable plates and, as a result, ended up blowing everything that he had. The young man spent millions, and the only thing he had to show for it was a collection of addictions and STDs.
Wrecked, he finally came to the point of scrounging in dumpsters for food. At last he came to his senses and save enough money for a train ride back to his father’s house. He wasn’t sure how his father would react, so he wrote him a letter explaining his situation.
The young man wrote to his father asking, “If you are willing to accept me back, Father, drape a white blanket over a tree in the front yard as a sign that I can come back. If you don’t want me back, don’t put anything over the tree, and I will just keep riding the train past the house.”
On the train, the young man explained his situation to the man seated across from him. When the train approached the house of his father, the wayward son asked the man to look and see if the blanket was draped over the tree. The son couldn’t bear to look because of his shame and fear. “Is the blanket there?” the young man asked. The man replied, “You have to come and look at this.”
What he saw was an overwhelming picture of grace. Blankets were draped over every tree as far as the eye could see.
This is my story. And it is yours also.
We never intend to lose sight of God, and we never think we’ll stray too far. But God gives us a tremendous amount of dignity about our choices. And if we continue to push him away, he can eventually honor that decision for good if he chooses. But every person who makes even one step toward God will see, the moment he or she turns around, that God has been right there the entire time – waiting.
In moments of shame and regret, it’s hard to imagine how anyone can accept us. But the beautiful reality is that God does, and he’s waiting to bring us home. And even more than acceptance, he heals us and gives us a place at his table, a sense of being “home.”
God gives us more than acceptance.
The most beautiful aspect of coming back “home” to God is that he doesn’t leave us where we are. He clothes us, feeds us, and provides the loving embrace of a father, just like the father in the story of the prodigal son, and in this story as well.
For the one who comes back, he will wash clean and empower whoever humbles himself to live a new life with a new mind, a new heart, and a new identity. He gives us a new future, and no longer do our lives have to be characterized by fear or regret.
As we live our lives in response to God’s kindness and care, knowing that he is intimately aware of our every thought and emotion, we can consider our lives a gift and his forgiveness as something undeserved. Only then can we respond in faith and live utterly and completely overwhelmed by grace.
Although unworthy to come back, God pushes that all to the side and bids us, “Come home.”