Nowhere in the New Testament does it tell us the “rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say it. We never learn how the story ends. The prodigal son returns . . . the father throws him a humdinger of a party to welcome him home . . . the older son throws a hissy fit . . . and that is it! The story is done. Inquiring minds want to know, what happened next?
Did the youngest son stick to the straight and narrow? Did the oldest son carry his grudge to the Hatfield and McCoy’s level? Did the father still love them both even if the reprieve was brief and everyone returned to their old behaviors? Did the neighbors still point their fingers and whisper? How did things end up?
Next week I drive down to Colorado to pick the oldest son and bring him to Montana where he will be starting a new job at the start of November. The oldest son has been the prodigal our lives since he graduated high school and moved away. He would tell you that his experiences over the past six to seven years were fairly reflective of the youngest son in the story of the prodigal son. He would readily admit that he did more than his fair share of sowing wild oats and paying the consequences of those actions. He would also tell you that he has learned a lot of tough lessons. He has caused his mother and father more than a little heartbreak through it all, but we have always left the door open for him to come home—figuratively and literally. Now, the time has come and he is returning home.
I think that this has been one of those decisions for him that pulled him in a lot of different directions. On the one hand, he wants to come home and be with his family; on the other hand, there are still a lot of loose ends that won’t be tied up when he slams that door behind him. At this point in his life he believes that this is the best thing that he can do as he continues on this new journey he began about six months ago. At home he will have the love and support of his family.
But it won’t be easy.
It won’t be easy because there is always the past that hangs around like a shadow that can’t be shook . . . always waiting to rear its ugly head and bite him in the rear. It won’t be easy because it will be a whole new experience that at times will be frustrating. In times of frustration there is safety in going back to that which is familiar and comfortable . . . going back to the past. There are issues of trust no matter how many reassuring words are spoken by those who love him . . . as it is for him, so it is for the family who loves him. It is easy to revert back to the past when things get messed up. The journey is just beginning and there are many paths—forward and backward—that he could choose to travel down. And, yet, the prodigal returns and no one is quite sure how the story is going to end . . . we have never been told.
Like most people I want to believe that the story of the prodigal ended with a “happily ever after”, but I am also a realist. Life is never as smooth as it is in stories or movies; there are bumps along the way. Because of that I have a sense of wariness of what the future will bring for the story. I think that all parents do when it comes to their children no matter what their situations . . . we worry about their futures . . . worry about their happiness . . . their success. We only want the best for them. So, we worry and wonder how the story will end.
As our oldest child returns to the fold, I can only deal with the present part of the story. The prodigal has come a long ways in the past six months. He has done much to straighten out his life and determine what his priorities are. He has done well and, both his mother and I are quite proud of him. The story is slowly leaning towards that “happily ever after” ending, but we have a long ways to go. For now, we are glad to have him coming home . . . and that is enough for now.
Maybe there was a reason for the writer of the story not to tell us the rest of the story . . . maybe the point of the story--to step into the shoes of those involved and to stand before that great mystery of “what next?” To discover that real faith begins at that point.
We welcome the prodigal home. We embrace him and shower him with our love. Now what? Faith . . . I have faith in him, I have faith in God. My prayer is simple for all of us as we stand at the nexus of the story: “Thy will be done.” We have to start somewhere and together we start here.