Walking Our Faith: The return of the prodigal daughter
Walking Our Faith
There once was a young lady who felt her small southern town was too small for the size of her dreams. So, she headed off for the bright lights of a big city with a set of peacock-blue luggage.
When she got to New York she checked into the YMCA and took a subway up to 112th Street wearing her favorite pair of kitten heels, white linen pants and a gold silk shirt. Because she had never ridden a subway, she had no idea how inappropriately she was dressed. She only knew that she was in the city of her dreams and she intended to make the most of it.
That first evening she rode to her friend’s apartment. He had been on the swim team with her in college and was now at Columbia working on a graduate degree. In his apartment they shared Chinese take-out and drank gin and vermouth which tasted just like iced tea. After several, her friend told her he was gay and would be moving in with his boyfriend and offered her his apartment to rent.
So she never spent a night in the YMCA. The next morning, she went downtown, picked up her luggage, and within three months found a job as a secretary with an investment bank on Wall Street.
Eight years later she was an assistant vice president and had spent the time in between changing apartments each year, going to champagne brunches on weekends, drinks at the Oak Room and club hopping downtown.
At the end of eight years she realized the dreams she thought would come true in New York were not the dreams she wanted after all. And when she looked at the other faces on the subway as she rode to work each morning, she saw blank stares and realized she’d had enough.
Over the next 25 years this young woman left home to pursue one dream after another and each time returned home disillusioned and disappointed, and each time her mother welcomed her back with open arms, bandaged her bruised ego and sent her out again.
Eventually her mother was the one who left to return to her own home, because she knew, even if her daughter did not, that it was time for her daughter to find a home of her own and to stand on her own two feet.
Last Sunday, Father Emmanuel spoke on the familiar parable of the prodigal son, as I sat in the congregation of St. Mary’s and realized we are all prodigal sons and daughters.
Whether or not we received the love and forgiveness we needed when we returned home, Jesus tells us that God, our Father, not only welcomes our return, he runs down the road to meet us. He runs with open arms to restore us, to heal our broken hearts.
In this parable, there is a lesser known character: the elder brother who stayed behind — the upright son who worked hard and never caused his father any heartbreak. When he sees his father embrace the prodigal son and call for a feast and throws a beautiful cloak over his shoulders, this good son is filled with anger and jealousy. He says to his father, “How can you forgive him after all he has taken? Why won’t you do for the same for me?”
And it occurred to me that we are also this self-righteous son. How often are we quick to judge people who are different than us, to point out their flaws, why they lack the right to our compassion and understanding?
How often are we the self-righteous older son toward ourselves? How often do we replay the missteps of our past, our hearts filled with bitterness at mistakes made not once or twice, but 10 times or 100?
Worse, we don’t allow ourselves to accept that our Father ran down the road with open arms to welcome us home. He created a feast for us, covered our broken shoulders with the finest cloak, forgave our sins and promised he could not even remember them. Every. Time.
Our Heavenly Father loves us no matter how many times we are the prodigal son or daughter. No matter how many times we are the resentful older son, he answers us with compassion.
We are always returning home to our Father and he is always reminding us that his Son has already paid our debt. We are free. Our obligation is to accept this gift of love and forgiveness. And when we are truly free from our own guilt and shame, we are able to offer the gift of love and compassion to others.
Suzanne lives in Breckenridge. Her books are available at the Next Page Books and Nosh on Main Street in Frisco. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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