Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Prodigal Sons

I think to each generation of a family there is born a prodigal child.  There is that child that goes against the grain of the rest of the family and strikes out on his or her own much to the chagrin of the everyone else.  This is the child that takes off at the first opportunity that he or she gets to get as far away from the rest of the family--to put distance between him or her and everyone else.  It is not a matter of not loving the family, it is just a matter that this child must venture out on his or her own.  They sort of march to the beat of a different drummer.  I know, because I am a prodigal son . . . but I am not the first nor the last in the family.

John Walter Keener

John Walter Keener

In this story my father, John Walter Keener, is the first prodigal son--though I doubt if this is true in the Keener family genealogy.  I have often wondered about my grandfather, Clyde Keener, and whether or not he might have been a prodigal son.  Despite that, I begin with my father.  From the bits and pieces that I have gleaned over the years concerning the family tree, I do know that my father was not long at staying home once he graduated high school.  Within a year of graduating he was off to Washington, D.C. where he found a job at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  I wish that I could say that he was an agent, but the best that I can discern is that he was an ordinary clerk.  It was at the Bureau that he met my mother, they got married, and they eventually had four children in quick succession--like one almost every year for four years.  Of those four children I was the first born.  But, I am getting ahead of the story.

When my father left home he left home.  Rarely did he ever venture back to his home place.  In fact, he pretty much spent the majority of his life living pretty far from his family and had very little contact with them as I was growing up.  I think that my father grew up with a very difficult father who ruled with an iron fist.  I also know that my father and his family were dirt poor.  Life was tough and when he had his opportunity to leave he left. There was no looking back.  Around the age of 19 years old my father became a prodigal son.

John Martin Keener

John Martin Keener

At the age of 18 years old I left for college--1,500 miles from my family.  Outside of the summer between my freshman and sophomore years I never returned to live at home.  I ventured forth and lived life pretty much on my own--I had some good times, I had some bad times, but most of the time I just lived.  I doubt if I did everything quite the way that my parents had hoped, but I survived.  I am sure that I did not always please them, but hey . . . I was a prodigal just following in my father's footsteps.

John Andrew Keener

John Andrew Keener

Which brings us to our oldest son, John Andrew Keener.  John Andrew basically flew out the door as soon as he graduated high school, but did not really strike out on his own until we moved to Montana.  For a couple of years, whenever things got tough, he returned to the nest to recoup.  When we moved to Montana he struck out on his own and moved to Fort Collins, Colorado.  One thing I will say about my oldest son is that he enjoys a good time and he was the epitome of the prodigal son.  To say that he broke his mother and mine hearts would be an understatement--he did not always make decisions that we agreed with and he often paid the price.  He took off and he has never really looked back except with nostalgia.  He is definitely his generation's prodigal son.

In the New Testament Jesus tells the story of the "Prodigal Son".  It is the story of a man who has two sons.  The youngest son knows of the inheritance that both he and his older brother will get when the old man kicks the bucket, but he wants his share and he wants it now.  Surprisingly the old man gives in and gives the younger son his inheritance.  In a flash the youngest son is off to the races as he heads off to the closest big city.  There in the bright lights of the city the youngest son kind of loses his senses--he makes the most of his time with nothing but wine, women, and song.  It doesn't take him long before he has blown the whole inheritance--he is flat broke, a far distance from home, and scrambling just to survive.  He is alone.  He is scared.  He longs to be back to the familiar.  That's when he decides that he would suck it up, apologize, and come crawling back to his father in hopes that his father would allow him to at least be a worker on the homestead.  Much to the prodigal son's surprise the father does better than he expects.  The father runs to greet the prodigal son, throws him a big party, and welcomes him whole-heartedly back into the family's graces.

I imagine that the story of the "Prodigal Son" has always been one of my favorite stories that Jesus told--since I am a prodigal it only makes sense.  Yet, the reason I love this story is not because of the prodigal son, but because of the father.  For years I identified with the prodigal son, but it is the father that I am the most attracted to.  There is a sense of grace and love that the father displays that moves me because he takes back his son despite the shame and hurt that he has caused.  Not only does he take back his son, he welcomes with open arms back into the family to take his rightful place.  I agree with the biblical scholars who state that this story is incorrectly titled as the "Prodigal Son"--the story is not about the son, it is about the father.  Jesus wanted us to know that the father was God and that we are all the prodigal children.

As my father got older he worked hard at re-establishing his connection with his family.  In his last years he spend more and more time re-connecting with his parents and sisters.  Family became important to him and I think deep down he regretted the relationship he did not have with his family.  I do not know for sure if he experienced the grace and love that Jesus spoke about in the story, but I do know that in his heart he felt as if the prodigal son had come home.

Thus it was for me.  My father and I had a better and deeper relationship as I grew older.  I felt his love and grace in welcoming me into his life in those last years--I know that he cared.  And, like my father before me, I felt the joy in being welcomed back into the fold as the prodigal son.

So it is my hope for my son.

As we come to celebrate Father's Day tomorrow, we cannot ignore the fact that we are all prodigal children.  We have all created that space between us and those that we loved so that we could be who we are.  We have done it in a variety of ways, but we have done it.  Yet, we cannot escape the fact that we are loved despite the barriers we have created.  That we are welcomed into our families--desired and wanted.  Coming from a long line of "prodigal sons", I thank God for the love and grace that welcomes us prodigals home.  For my father--God rest his soul--I give thanks.  For my son I pray for his traveling mercies and that he finds his way home once again.

Happy Father's Day!

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