Last week we had the opportunity to see the recently released movie, The Heart of Man.
The film’s tagline: “Our brokenness is a bridge, not a barrier,” summarizes the story of a father’s relentless pursuit of his wayward son. Both the prodigal’s story and the message of the film are about grace–grace dispensed in a vile world filled with sin and failure.
Some time ago, we published the following article– written from my imagination and based on Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. It is told from the viewpoint of an earthly father–and is the composite of stories, insights, and advice that several parents of prodigals shared with me.
–Leona Bergstrom, Director, Re-Ignite
The Day Things Began to Change
“Take it.” I told him. “Take the money, the caravan, the jewels, the deed to the property and whatever else you think is yours. Take it and go.”
I’d had enough of his arrogant attitude, late-night carousing, and obvious snubbing of our faith and heritage. He wanted to leave, so leave he did.
My heart and soul collapsed under the weight of guilt, shame, anger, frustration, and, surprisingly, profound love. Memories flooded my mind–images of a sweet little boy singing songs of praise to Jehovah, a young man reciting the Scriptures, a strong lad working in the field. As I watched him walk away that day, I didn’t know if I would see him again.
Falling to my knees, and weeping uncontrollably, I began my own journey. My son was called a prodigal because he squandered his resources. Likewise, I am a prodigal if I waste the life-changing lessons taught by this grueling experience. What happened between the day my son left and the day we celebrated his return? It is a tale of deep pain and sorrow. This is my story. It is how I changed during those long and troubling years.
I was filled with rage when my son first turned his back on his family and faith. How could this youngster, whom I had fed, clothed, sheltered, and educated, dare become such a turncoat? How could he do this to me? To his mother, our well-respected family, his village, his synagogue?
A meddling neighbor reported seeing my son stumbling down the street of a nearby village with a group of loudmouthed, ill-behaved companions at his side. My soul inflamed with embarrassment and shame. What would others think about our spiritual and parental shortcomings? We would be at the top of the community prayer lists and gossip sheets.
Eventually, others’ perceptions lessened in importance, and I was besieged with fear. What if my son may makes terrible, irreversible choices? He could be defeated by a hostile and evil world. The Enemy would seek to devour him. He could even die out there.
Then guilt began pummeling my soul. Had I done something to cause this? Was I too rigid, too judgmental, too unbending–too busy? Did my behavior cause him to leave? Had I driven him away from God?
Questions, doubts, and worry haunted my sleepless nights. I wondered if my son would even want to come home.
I began understanding two things: One, it is up to God to do his work in my son’s life. He might lose all of his money, plunge into a life of sin, and become destitute. I could not fix it. This was God’s work. Second, if my son returned home, a changed father should greet him, not the bitter, self-righteous one he left behind. I needed God to work in me.
Thus began my transformative journey. Asking God to search my heart led me to repent of my own sin–selfishness, pride and judgmental attitudes. Yes, I had set unrealistic expectations for my son. I was impatient.
I pursued forgiveness. Recognizing I wronged my son on many occasions, I wrote unsent letters filled with confession and apologies. Sometimes, talking to an empty chair as if he were there, I asked my son to forgive me. I also forgave him.
Constant prayer became my sustenance. Pleading with God to rescue my son, I spoke of times God had turned hardened hearts back to him. I surrendered control. I asked for mercy, for restoration.
As a part of my healing, I started being thankful for what I had. Obsessed with the absence of my wayward child, I had failed to celebrate the others I loved.
I’ll never forget the evening I stared into a pink and dusty sunset and saw my prodigal hobbling toward home! Like never before, my heart was filled with unimaginable love and compassion. Before my son walked away I must have known people around me were in various sorts of pain, but I had never considered why it should bother me. My heartbreak softened me to feel sympathy.
I became deeply aware that having a relationship with my son was more important than material possessions, right behavior, or status. My greatest desire was to hear my son’s voice and then listen and listen some more to him. I knew that once our relationship was restored, I could point him to his Heavenly Father. Imagine my delight when I heard my son tell his friends, “I turned back to God because my father wanted a relationship with me. Dad promised to walk beside me no matter what. I knew I could trust him, so I knew I could trust his God.”
The ultimate step in my transformative journey was experiencing and dispensing grace. I can’t do anything to make God love me more because His love is perfect; and thankfully, nothing that I do makes Him love me any less. How could I not extend such extraordinary love and acceptance to my very own son?
I am the earthly father of the prodigal son. My journey has been difficult, but through it, God has transformed my life.
If you know a prodigal, take heart from my story. You are not alone. God can transform your life. He can use your children to change you.
God also has the power to bring them home.
-L. Bergstrom © Re-Ignite 2016
This article was originally published in Mature Living, June 2015
Photos courtesy of CanStock.izelphotography and guyerwood
NOTE: THE HEART OF MAN will show in selected theatres for one night on October 17th. Get your tickets soon.