In my last blog post, I wrote about finishing up my month-long stay in Arkansas. I was supposed to leave for Illinois the following day, but I was so eager to get home to my parents’ place, I couldn’t sleep. I got in my car at 9 p.m. and started driving.
I drove 8.5 hours, and arrived at my parents’ place at dawn. I couldn’t find my house key, so I tapped on the glass patio door until my dad heard me and came and opened the door.
There’s nothing like coming home. The hugs, the laughs, the food, the stories, the familiar photographs and passed-down-through-several-generations antiques.
One of the benefits of the past six months, as I’ve been traveling and speaking, is that my schedule is more flexible than it’s ever been, and I’ve been able to see my family a lot more than I could before.
(I used to live on the west coast, my parents live in IL, my brother lives in NE, my other brother lives near Chicago, and I have a brother and a sister in PA. So needless to say, traveling around to see everyone would’ve used up all my vacation time I had when I was working full-time.)
While I was in AR, I taught an adult Sunday School class every week. We’d watch a 15 minute clip from a movie and then discuss what it taught us about life and faith and God.
On my last Sunday there, we watched a clip from Walk The Line, the biopic about Johnny Cash. It was hard to watch the gifted but tortured musician bottom out — but beautiful to watch redemption begin to appear as he got clean and sober.
Our Sunday School class spent the rest of the hour talking about Cash’s story, and how it mirrored the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.
As I drove through the night to get from AR to IL, I spent a lot of time thinking about the Prodigal Son, and how the idea of home has echoed in the human heart from the beginning of time.
I thought about the mistakes I’ve made with my own family members, the times when I’ve had to forgive and be forgiven, the long conversations I’ve had and the sometimes-painful compromises I’ve made to stay in relationship with the people I love most. I’ve thought of the ways I’ve grown and changed because of my family — and how much I owe them for loving me at my best and believing in me at my worst.
I remembered the book Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen, in which he points out that we use the word “Prodigal” to mean “someone who rebelled and ran away.” But the word “Prodigal” actually means “someone who came home.”
So Jesus describes the son in the story not by his rebellion but by his redemption….not by his running away but by his returning home….not by his sin but by his salvation.
As I was driving towards IL in the middle of the night, closing the gap between me and home, I was reminded to continue to pray for the “prodigal” people in my life, and to spend more energy hoping for their return than I spend mourning their rebellion.
And I found new gratitude for my earthly parents and my heavenly Parent — who names me not for the ways in which I run from him, but for the way he rejoices when I come to the end of myself, surrender my faults and my failures, and start towards home.