Adeline started pre-K this year at the public school in town. She has been in preschool two days a week for two years, but now she goes to the “big school” everyday (half day). She loves it! I pick her up in the carpool line each day full of excitement! And from that point on we are showered with stories from her day. Her teacher will send messages home to parents each day, that encourage us to ask specific questions about the day that spur on details in regards to what she is learning.
She eats it up. And even more so, I guzzle it down!
“What color apple did you like best today” or “What did you learn about Sally sneeze today?”
Such questions lead to not only answers to those questions but also open windows to other stories about the day, other kids, who made her teacher “sad” that day or which new friend she played with outside.
Stories! Lots of stories. It often takes leading questions to spark her memory, but once things get going . . .
But the point of her story is not the story itself. It exposes something greater. The teacher doesn’t send home questions to ask our children simply to keep us informed about what they are learning. Although, that is part of it. Even more so, it helps the students recall what they have learned and then reinforces it. This happens when Adeline tells me something that begins with the letter “A”, followed by a new song she learned, topped off with an account of how another kid responded during that song, which leads into the craft they did and how “so and so” didn’t help clean up, and . . . . you get the point.
Stories matter. Why? Because telling them paints a picture, and usually that pictures unveils something greater than the story itself. For Adeline, each day after school, the story she tells about circle time connects to the learning she engages with each day. This is why I am telling my story, my story highlights something greater too. That something greater is Jesus.
As a believer it is impossible to tell My Story without sharing God’s Story. God’s story becomes the main event as I share mine. That is what makes my story SO good. It is not my role in the story that makes it worth telling, it is His It is not about me and what I can do, but instead it points to what he has done in my life – for me and through me. The something greater has nothing to do with me, but instead it has everything to do with Him.
I would like to interrupt the story of the Prodigal Son to point out something in 1 Peter. Believers are referred to as “exiles” or “foreigners”.
“To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia . . . Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.”
So in the early church believers were sent out to share the good news about Jesus (the resurrection), they were sent into a world that stood in stark contrast to their mission and moral compass. Therefore, they would live like foreigners, even among their own culture and people. Why? Because the Holy Spirit had convicted them to live a life according to the teachings of Jesus, to the Word of God. The problem was that everything around them would defy that. This is still the case today. Following Jesus often contradicts culture and it is not uncommon for a Christian to feel like they are a foreigner in their own culture.
When I was 18 I decided that I didn’t want to be an exile anymore. I was tired of being a foreigner. The problem was I thought I could trade in my citizenship and live a joy-filled life belonging to the world. This would mean I could stop living as Peter describes and start fitting in better with those around me. I figured I could be content outside of God’s purpose for me, worse off, that I could find peace and happiness engaging in feel-good behavior and attempting to deny my heritage as a daughter of God.
Therefore, I attempted to become a citizen of the world, instead of a “citizen of heaven” as Paul names it, a member of God’s kingdom. The world would be just fine for me.
This was not true.
I never found joy. I only found sorrow.
There was no peace, only anxiety and depression. Even though I denied it for a long time, and attempted to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, I found nothing good in doing it. I was still an exile, a foreigner, one seeking a place to belong. Nothing had changed, except that everything had changed.
Much like the lost son, I found myself in great need. And also like the lost son, I tried to fix it myself, to fill the void, to meet the need, to resolve my own issues.
Last week I talked about the younger son packing up and leaving. I likened this to my choice to put my faith aside when I went off to college. Scripture tells us that the son
“squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.
So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.
He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’”
It didn’t take long for him to be in need, to be in trouble. His need was bigger than he was, and the resources he had fell short. Still, what did he try to do first? He tried to solve the problem on his own, his way.
He tried to hire himself out, but that didn’t pan out for him. He determined to go home and beg his father to hire him as a servant, as he was no longer worthy to be his son. Still not quite it.
His ideas. His plan. His solution to the problem. The problem, by the way, that he created in the first place.
It is at this point in the story where we see a difference between the parable and God’s story in reference to the “inheritance”. There was a limit to the son’s inheritence, and he spent it— quick! It was gone and he was left with nothing, nothing but need.
The inheritance that God gives us is different. It doesn’t expire or dry up. It never run outs. Like I did, we can misuse it when we fail to live into the promise given to us, but we can’t use it up. Mainly, because it is not ours, but His. A gift from the Father to us.
“In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” ( 1 Peter 1:3)
An inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade can be hard to grasp. In the story, the son goes through his inheritance and is left with nothing. So what does he do? He concocts this plan to return home, beg for forgiveness, and ask to be taken back by the father, but only as a hired hand and not to be fully restored as his son.
Why? Because to be the son gives him a place of honor and importance. It places him at the table with the father, as part of his family and therefore an heir to all he has. He spent his inheritance and didn’t deserve his place at the table with the father, or so he thought.
His plan verses the plan of his father; two very different ideas. You see, the son was simply going to ask for what he deserved. Where as the father planned to give him more than he deserved. The father would welcome him back with love and restore him to his place of honor. His father would shower him with undeserved love, with grace – he would show him mercy and forgive him. Because what the son didn’t realize, is that his father was waiting for him to return home all along.
My plan was different from God’s too. I thought I could earn my way into God’s good grace. I thought I would fake my way back in by half-heartedly attempting to re-establish my faith. I pretended I could find my way back on my timeline and in my way. God had a different plan. The My way or the highway threat may work with my kiddos, but it doesn’t cut it with God. His way IS the highway, the only way, and even when we don’t know it we are on it.
Our plans and His can be very different. Yet, some how we tend to think our idea is the best one, our way will work better, our plan will outdo his. At least I did. But through the prophet Isaiah, God reminds us he is bigger than we know.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
God is the one with something greater in mind, greater than we could ever imagine, a plan beyond comparison. The God of irrisistable grace and unending love, not to mention mercy and patience.
I was on the highway and I didn’t even know it. Amidst pretending to determine my own destiny, God already had the plan worked out.
This is the “something greater” my story speaks to. It is not about the fun I had as a wild child or even my journey back to the Father. It is about more than the mistakes I made, the bad choices, or the irresponsible decisions. Those are the necessary details in my story, but not the point. If we focus on those we miss the something greater. We miss the saving grace. We miss His story.
Hidden in Adeline’s recollection of daily events at school is something big: she is learning each day more than she knows, and she is loving it! Her stories lead to this. I don’t want to miss this.
My story leads to God’s story. It uncovers the undeserved love and unearned grace, and exemplifies God’s faithfulness in spite of my unfaithfulness. It reveals the something greater: I thought I was off squandering my inheritance in wild living, far from the Father, when in reality he was right there with me, all along, waiting with open arms for me to not only decide to come home, but to be embraced by the very one from whom I ran.
I thought I had it all figured out, the perfect plan in place. But God had other ideas, ideas I could not even begin to imagine. Grace and love I had yet to discover. But I was still a few years away from this part of the story. My journey back takes awhile to recount, but it’s worth the wait.