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Posts Tagged ‘prodigal son’

by Rocky Glenn

I am in the process of teaching my son to drive.  The first time we were out of a parking lot and out on the road I believe I held the steering wheel as much as from the passenger seat as he did from the driver’s seat for a short fifteen-minute trip.  Next time we sat down for the same trip, I only reached for the wheel to assist on three occasions.  We’ve now traveled the same path multiple times and I’ve not reached for the wheel since the second trip.  This past weekend I took him on roads he had never driven and no corrections were made other than simple verbal guidance.  He is learning and will likely be a much better driver than I was starting out.

I share this story not so much because of my teenage boy, but more as a reflection of me.  Any parent who has ever taught a teenager to drive knows what a nerve-wracking and frightening experience it can be.  As I thought about what it means to enjoy the moment, I realized it only comes as we learn to let go of the distractions of regret, what’s to come, and expectations just as I have had to learn let go of the steering wheel and let my son drive.  With each trip behind the wheel, I grow more confident of his growing ability to maneuver the vehicle.

Teaching a young driver is a tense experience because you realize very quickly from the passenger seat you are not in control.  We fear things we have no control over.  We fear the shame of the past because we can’t change it so we live in regret lest our darkest secrets be revealed.  We fear the future not knowing what tomorrow holds and having no guarantee of the health and safety of our loved one so we worry and dread what may come.  We judge others and others judge us based on preconceived expectations fearing how scenarios may play out.  None of these things are within our control.

Reinhold Niebuhr captured the heart of releasing control, living in the present and enjoying the moment.  Niebuhr may or may not be a name familiar to you.  Admittedly, despite knowing his words most of my life, I never knew his name until researching his famous prayer first shared in the early 1930s.  Commonly known as The Serenity Prayer, it has been shared in multiple addiction and recovery programs, and has become a source of strength for many.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

To live in a state of serenity is to live in the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled.  Living a life of serenity sounds a lot like enjoying the moment.  Unfortunately, unlike Niebuhr’s request, it is rarely something which is simply granted.  Much like learning to trust a new driver, learning to enjoy the moment and live a life of serenity is a gradual process and is generally learned through experiences of life both pleasant and unpleasant.

In the last two posts, we’ve looked in depth at the story of the prodigal son.  The story ends with the prodigal being ushered into a celebration in his honor clothed in the finest robes and shoes.  If it were possible to interview the prodigal after the celebration concluded, I wonder what he would tell us.  I believe Henri Nouwen gives us a glimpse in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son as he places each of us in the role of the prodigal:

“For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life – pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures – and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.

Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not ‘How do I find God?’ but ‘How am I to let myself be found by him?’ The question is not ‘How am I to know God?’ but ‘How am I to let myself be known by God?’ And finally, the question is not ‘How am I to love God?’ but ‘How am I to let myself be loved by God?'”  God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.

To humanize the story of the prodigal son, you would have to imagine the young prodigal and his older brother still struggled with the mindset of being truly accepted into the father’s love with absolutely no effort on their own.  Flashbacks of his frivolous living no doubt would haunt the younger brother just as his older brother must have certainly struggled with bitterness over the years of service he dedicated to earning favor which was already given.  Both of these are struggles we all face and must learn to let go of to enjoy the moment.

To conclude this series, I will remind myself and all of us of the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:27 – 34 as interpreted by Eugene Peterson in The Message which teach us to how to enjoy the moment:

“Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

Rocky

More posts in the Enjoying the Moment series:

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by Rocky Glenn

Distractions keep us from being present and enjoying the moments we live. For the churchboy, the greatest distraction is attempting to live up to a set of expectations. An expectation is a belief or anticipation of how someone should or will respond. Churchboys have many expectations they chase after: their own expectations, expectations of God, expectations of the church, and expectations of others. Quite often these get intertwined and create a web of confusion which is difficult to break free of and leaves one unable to ever enjoy the moment. Disapproval from friends, family, and fellow church members is felt when expectations are not met and long held beliefs and practices are questioned. This disapproval gives way to separation and alienation from those once held close as peace is found more and more in uncertainty rather than simply accepting clear-cut, placating answers to the tough issues of life and conforming to perceived expectations. It is in this journey toward uncertainty the recovering churchboy wakes up to Truth as the scales of expectations begin to fall slowly from his eyes. In my previous post, I discussed how both the prodigal son and his older brother fell victim to the distraction of regret. If you are perhaps unfamiliar with the story, allow me to share below:

The tale opens with the younger of the father’s two sons going to his father asking for his share of his father’s estate. Immediately after the request we are told the father divided his estate between the two brothers. Within a short time, the younger son packed all his belongings and left home and, before long, wasted his entire fortune. To further compound the situation, a famine hit the land and the only employment he could find was feeding pigs. As hunger drove him to the point of desiring the slop he was feeding the animals, he woke up to the idea of his father’s servants being better cared for and receiving three meals a day while he was starving to death. At this point, he decides to return home and beg to be accepted as a servant.

Imagine the confusion of the younger son as he is returning home and, just as he can barely distinguish the silhouette of his father’s home in the distance, he notices a cloud of dust gaining momentum moving towards him on the dirt road only to realize the catalyst for the dust storm is his Father running to him with open arms. Pushing his father away, he begins his rehearsed speech of what a failure and let down he truly is and has become. The father interrupts as he wraps him in his arms all the tighter and shouts to all around, “Bring him some fresh clothes, shoes, and jewelry! Get him cleaned up! It’s time to celebrate and party! My boy has come home! Once thought lost and dead, he is now found and alive!”

During the younger son’s celebrated return home, his older brother was working in the fields and unaware of his brother’s return and the party being thrown in his honor. As he approached home after the day’s work and learned of the celebration and its cause, the story records him as refusing to enter the party and storming off sulking in anger. Being approached by his father for an explanation, he states his case rather emphatically, “I’ve worked for all these years. I’ve never brought you any shame and always done everything you ask. You’ve never held a party in my honor, yet this fool returns home after wasting away all his money and you throw a feast for him as a reward!”

Just as the father’s heart was overflowing with joy upon the return of his younger son, I can imagine sorrow pricked his heart to hear the words of the older brother. How heart-breaking it must have been to look at his oldest son and say, “Don’t you get it. You’ve worked for me all these years and never once realized all I have is already yours.”

The story of the prodigal son is one of the most well-loved and well-known stories Jesus ever used to illustrate the Father’s love. Taking a closer look at the story of the prodigal we can also see examples of how distractions of expectations rob each of them of enjoying the moment just as it does the churchboy.

Expectations of the Younger Son: The Internal Churchboy

As the story opens, the younger son’s request reveals his unhappiness and dissatisfaction with his current life as he is distracted by it not meeting his expectations of what life truly should be. He sets about spending all his time, energy, and resources in attempts of achieving and acquiring all he ever wanted. However, as his bankroll runs thin and his energy is spent, he is forced to face the reality we all must come to realize. Life has no “supposed to be.” Once distracted by his own personal expectations, the distraction of regret has become his close personal companion as he finds himself weary, lost, and alone with no other choice but to return home ashamed and groveling expecting rejection.

Though they would never admit it or exhibit it externally, churchboys often view themselves as the eternal prodigal. Convinced and conditioned to believe the problems of their lives are simply a result of their own selfishness and pride leading them astray, they live their life feeling unworthy to be called a son and seek solace in simply being known as a servant. They anticipate being turned away in displeasure as they return to the Father week after week, Sunday after Sunday confessing their failures of living up to the Father’s perceived expectations: “I didn’t pray enough this week. I didn’t spend any time reading my Bible. I spent more time watching TV and on social media than I did with you. I lost my temper, said things I should have never said, and hurt those I love. I’m sorry. Although I don’t deserve it, please forgive me. I’m so unworthy.” Churchboys beg and plead for the Father’s forgiveness to simply feel accepted once again. Their expectations of the Father are tainted with the fear of rejection and anticipation of being turned away as a result of their image of themselves and how they perceive the Father views them.

The prodigal’s return home is a beautiful illustration of waking up to the true unconditional acceptance of grace for the first time. The cocoon of shame and unworthiness from missing the father’s perceived expectations slowly begins to crack as unconditional love breaks through and the son slowly begins to realize there is nothing he could ever do to not be considered a son. When I was first presented the gospel of grace and acceptance after many years of living the weekly cycle of the prodigal, I was just as perplexed as I’m sure the younger son was being wrapped in his father’s arms and celebrated for returning home. To realize the Father has no expectations in being considered a son is the path to recovery for the internal churchboy.

Expectations of the Older Brother: The External Churchboy

The older brother’s response is reflective of the churchboy’s outward life. Much like the older brother, churchboys make public displays of all they do to please God. They expect to be rewarded for their service and are serving for the reward of acceptance. Their security and trust lie in their years of service rather than in who they are. Because of their track record and accomplishments, they view themselves in higher regard than others. Blinded from the true definition of sonship, their expectations are to be accepted based on the good they’ve done, as well as the evil they’ve not done.

Such is the way of the churchboy, constantly working to obtain what he already has access to. He believes the only way he will ever hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” is by working more, doing more, saying Jesus more, and outshining those around him. As long as he feels someone is closer to the Father than himself or there is something greater he must do, the churchboy will continue working to reside in a place he doesn’t realize he already exists in and can never escape, the Father’s love.

The perceived expectations the older brother has of the father are really no different than his younger sibling’s, but they go about meeting those expectations in different manners: the former through working to achieve and avoid, the latter begging and pleading. Until they release their expectations neither brother, nor the churchboy, can enjoy the moment they are in. For the brothers, that moment is a moment of love, acceptance, and celebration of being with their father. For the churchboy, it’s the same.

Expectations distract from us enjoying the moment and being present where we are. Our minds become so entangled with what’s supposed to be, what’s required, and anticipated outcomes we become blinded to the expectations we’ve placed on ourselves, on others, and on our God. Let us rejoice in the unconditional love and acceptance of the Father and pay the Father’s love forward in unconditional love and acceptance of others.

Rocky

More posts in the Enjoying the Moment series:

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by Cindy Felkel, Guest Blogger

I see your beautiful heart. Every time I talk to you, I am amazed at the resilience and bravery I see in you. I know that I have only seen a glimpse into the hurt that you have experienced. I know that life has been harder on you than on many people. I see the jaded parts of you and I see the defiant spirit too; that refuses to give in and rises stronger every day.

I know when you hear me say that I am a Christian, it causes you to cringe. You expect me to judge you. You think that if I saw half of what you have done, I’d run away in fear and disgust. But that’s not the kind of Christian I am. That’s not the way a lot of us who really know Jesus are.

I am a Christian who has dealt with abuse and I have seen its power to cause people to run from light and hide in corners of hurt and self-protection.  I have  been afraid of being seen because of all the secrets I  was hiding. I know what it is like to lay on the floor sobbing until I couldn’t move because the hurt was so deep that I couldn’t think of a reason to get up and go on.

My story may be mild compared to what you have seen. My story may not relate to you at all.  When you hear my story, you may see me as a spoiled clueless middle-class  white woman living in a bubble or a weak woman who let religious people shame me for the lamest things. I don’t know if anything I’ve ever experienced really relates to you. But what I do know is God’s healing heart that longs to embrace you and show you just how treasured and adored you are.

That  may not be what you’ve heard from religious people who have judged you, but it is completely what Jesus taught.

I imagine that you have experienced religion telling you that your mistakes keep you from God and that you have to get your act together before you can come to him. But that’s not what Jesus taught or modeled with his life. Jesus taught about God loving us and grieving over our sins because they hurt us and keep us from seeing him.

People misuse the Greek word “wrath”  when they talk about God.  The word actually means “the strong emotion we feel when someone is doing something that hurts themselves or our relationship with them.” It is more how a mom feels when her child is playing in the street and not at all about an angry vindictive God wanting to squish us when we disappoint him. He cares about the sin in our lives because it hurts you and it keeps us from accepting his love for us.

It’s a love that none of us can fully comprehend.

It’s a love that Jesus describes in the book of Luke, when he told us three stories about missing things. In each of these stories, the missing thing represents people who don’t know God and aren’t following him. Each of these stories builds on the other and gives us more insight into God’s incredible heart for you my friend and how he longs to bring healing and hope to your story.

In the first story, Jesus tells of a shepherd who has one hundred sheep but loses one of them. The shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep who are together and goes after the one sheep who has wandered away. When he finds the missing sheep, he doesn’t scold her and say, “Why did you wander away, I should have let you get eaten by wolves.” He joyfully picks her up and puts her on his shoulders and carries her back home. Then he calls all of his friends and celebrates with them, because he is so happy that he has found her. Jesus says this is the same way the father feels about you, my friend.

He continues to tell another story of a woman who has ten silver coins (which were much more valuable in Jesus’ culture than silver coins today). When the woman lost one of the coins, she lit a lamp and searched feverishly until she finds the missing coin. When she finds it, she calls all of her friends and neighbors to celebrate with her because she is so thrilled that she has found the coin that was missing. This is another amazing glimpse into how much God misses you when you aren’t walking through life with him.

Then, in the final and most beautiful story, Jesus develops a picture of a young man who does everything imaginable in ancient Jewish culture to insult his father. The young man defies convention and asks his father to give him his inheritance while the father is still alive. This was an unheard-of slap in the face to the father. It was if the son were saying, “I wish you were dead because I’d be better off and I can handle things better than you do.”

Then the young man takes his inheritance, which was supposed to be used to further his family’s estate and heritage in Israel, and he takes it to a foreign land where he wastes it all on “wild living”: sinning, breaking the religious rules of his people.

The young man finds himself so bad off that he takes a job feeding pigs (which is a disgusting job in any culture, but for an ancient Jew, it was as rock bottom as you could get. Pigs were unclean animals that Jews were forbidden to eat. Association with them made a Jewish person ceremonially unclean).

This young man was so desperate that he longed to eat the slop that he was feeding to the pigs.

When he finally came to his senses, he realized that even the lowest servants in his father’s house were better off than him. He decided to return home, apologize for all the mistakes he had made, admit that he was no longer worthy to be called a son, and beg his father to take him back as a servant.

For the people in Jesus’ day, the story would have been shocking and the expectation would have been for the son to be punished extremely. Before Roman occupation, a son could be killed for such defiance.

But Jesus tells a different story. I think perhaps the most beautiful words in all of the Bible are “while the son was still a long way off, the father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son…”

Jesus painted a completely different picture of God’s heart for people who aren’t following him. He gave us a beautiful picture of God longing to have a relationship with us.  The son was still a long way off! He hadn’t made amends. He was simply on his way home and the father ran to him!!!!

This is the true picture of how God feels about you, my friend! It’s so hard to fathom that those of us who believe it constantly struggle to live it out for ourselves and towards others, but it is what Jesus taught!

The story continues and to say that the father embraced the young man and kissed him.

The young man was fully aware of all the wrong things he had done and he said to the father, “I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

But, the father completely restored the son to the position he was meant to be in. The father had his servants honor the son by putting the best robe on him. He gave his son a ring that showed his position of authority in the family and he put sandals on him which showed that he was not a servant.

Then the father had a huge celebration with his friends and neighbors to rejoice over his son coming home.

And that is how God sees you! Yes, he is hurt over the sin in your life because he loves you and wants the best for you. When he looks at you, he sees his beloved daughter. He wants you to know who you are. He wants to restore you to your position as his child with the full authority and honor that comes along with that.

That is the God I follow and he misses you.

Blessings my friend!

https://www.rumandcolaforthesoul.com/blog/2019/3/26/to-my-survivor-friends-who-hate-religion

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