What I Learned from the Prodigal Son and His Father

By Alesia Gadach

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”  Luke 15:20

Reading this from the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 has always caused an unexplained prick in my heart and an unexpected sting of tears in my eyes.  Recently I’ve been on a journey of transformation that led me to study in depth this parable and I discovered why it affected me so deep in my heart.

I’m learning to study God’s Word in a new way through the book “Women of the Word” by Jen Wilkin.  (By the way, don’t let the title stop you, men.)  In it she shares a perspective new to me – the Bible is about God, not me.  It tells about the reign and rule of God throughout his Big Story – creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.  It tells me who God is and in that light, who I’m not.  So, our clear purpose in studying the Bible is to “behold the reign and rule of God as revealed in his Word, thereby understanding our own place in the Big Story.”

Jen lays out an extensive process for studying the Word that leads to the final stage of application – how should it change me?  We should ask ourselves three questions:

  • What does this passage teach me about God?
  • How does this aspect of God’s character change my view of self?
  • What should I do in response?

After studying this parable in Luke 15:11-32 for over a month, I’ve come to these conclusions:

VIEW OF GOD – “What does this passage teach me about God?”

  • God’s greatest desire is that I be reunited with him.  He loves me as his child – not as a servant who must work for him.
  • His greatest sorrow is when I walk away from my home with him to a foreign place, thinking that I can live on my own without him.  His heart breaks to see his child lost.
  • His greatest joy is when he sees me turn around and come back toward him.  When I head home to my Father, he comes running toward me when I am still a long way off.
  • God’s greatest gift to me is his presence.  When I am with him, he can love and guide and protect me through all of life’s ups and downs.  When I choose to be away from him, he allows me to experience life’s consequences on my own, as I have chosen.
  • God shows his mercy, grace, and love.
    • In his mercy, he doesn’t give me what I deserve for my rebelliousness (in those days, rebellious sons were stoned to death – Deut 21:18-21), but allows me to experience life without him until I come to my senses.
    • In his grace, when he sees me humbled and acknowledging that I have separated myself from him, he comes running to me and brings me back into his presence.
    • He does all this because he loves me lavishly with an unending love.  He never gives up on me, but is always watching and waiting for me to come back to him.
  • God is compassionate.  He has understanding and sympathy for what I’ve gone through.  His heart aches over the things that have happened to me – whether of my own doing or that were done to me because of the brokenness of the world.
  • God is joyful over my return.  He comes running toward me when he sees me coming and he celebrates with the angels in heaven when I return.  He showers me with kisses to let me know I’m forgiven, accepted, and restored to my position as his child.  I’m like a glorious diamond that got lost in the mire – he is glad to get the diamond back because it is precious to him.
  • God offers full restoration.  Because of what Jesus did, God holds nothing against me.  Though I deserve to die for my rebellious acts (because in God’s holiness, no one can be with him who is not perfect), Jesus’ blood covers my sins so that all God sees when he looks at me is his beloved son.  What happened yesterday is forgotten – what’s happening today is the only thing he sees.  And if I’m heading toward him, he’s running to me to welcome me home.

VIEW OF SELF – “How does God’s character change my view of myself?”

  • I thought of myself as “the good child,” – always trying to be perfect, always thinking that’s what I was supposed to do, always measuring myself against my own “Ideal Self” image.
  • In this parable, the older son was the perfect one – he stayed with his father and worked hard and “never disobeyed.”  But he was angry – even bitter – when the younger “bad son” came back and the father was so glad to see him.  The older son was “perfect,” but he didn’t understand the father’s heart.
  • My thinking is changing now – I can see that it’s OK to be a mess.  It’s really even better than striving to be perfect.  I’m a mess that has “come to my senses” and knows I’m a mess and that I can’t fix it on my own.  Being independent and in charge of myself only causes a terrible tension within myself.  Recognizing my imperfections and turning around and walking back toward my father brings a peace and hope I haven’t felt before.
  • I’m starting to see myself as a child that the father loves with an intense love.  I’m not a servant that has to work to be part of the household.  My father loves me no matter what.
  • Because I’m becoming more aware of how much he loves me, I’m compelled to be obedient because I know his way is best for me and he’ll stick with me through life’s ups and downs.  His presence with me is my inheritance – available to me now and later.

APPLICATION – “What should I do in response?”

  • All these years that I’ve been hiding my rebelliousness and disobedience – even from myself – I fooled myself into thinking I was the “good child.”  I set up my “Ideal Self” and let it rule my life.  But now I see that when I came to my senses, he was watching for me and took me back, and has been patiently teaching me all this time.
  • There is a process of transformation happening:
    • Come to my senses:  Acknowledging my actions that separated me from him and realizing that I need him.
    • Change my thinking:  Rather than working to be perfect, I have the freedom to be open about myself and my past and letting God heal it.  That’s such a heavy burden lifted.
    • Be humble, repentant, and confess.  This is so hard to do.  The pride that has ruled me still wants to rule.  And the habit of protecting myself instead of being vulnerable is hard to give up.  But I’m seeing that the old way of hiding has been harmful, and the new way of being open is surprisingly powerful.  Seeing others around me be transparent gives me courage to do it myself.  And my being transparent with others may do the same for them.

So, I am being transformed by the renewing of my mind.  I thought real life was being perfect, which meant hiding my imperfections.  Come to find out, real life is being a broken mess and humbly allowing God to restore it.  The prick in my heart and tear in my eye when I read of the father watching for his son to return and running to him when he is still a long way off – that comes from a longing deep in my heart to be that child that the father loved so much.  Now I am beginning to see and believe – I am that child!