what if he had died face down in the mud with the pigs?

i’ve been thinking a lot about perspective lately… how it’s true that perspective doesn’t directly change circumstances – but it will determine how you feel about them (which influences further action). initially i thought of this only from the place of having a hopeful perspective in a challenging situation. But then i started wondering what the prodigal son thought of his choice to take half of everything his Father owned and leave – with gusto and vibrato – shaming his family, friends, turning his back on everything he had ever known, snubbing his nose at them on the way out. maybe even calling them cowards for not following suit.  i’m sure he felt pretty triumphant – pretty free – pretty elated that he had gotten away from the restraints and rules and confinement of his Father’s house. Perhaps he felt he had really evolved past the old ways, that he was just too beyond them to really be understood, he had ideas, too – he had thoughts of how to advance the family business to really make it soar. But maybe he was shut down and ignored, dismissed for being the younger son so he finally said forget this. why waste my efforts here? why put myself through it?  So, totally justified in his heart, he goes to his Father and demands what belongs to him (or would one day) and hits the road. I mean after all how can someone be expected to stay where they’re not appreciated.  The fact that he felt great about his choice says nothing about the reality of his decision.

That could have been the back story, who knows.

It’s a pretty familiar story, one we’ve heard about a thousand other young sons, or maybe it’s our own story; leaving the family for a better life. Maybe things in his Father’s house were rough. Maybe his older brother constantly belittled him, maybe his Father didn’t give him credit for the things he was really good at. Maybe it was wonderful and he had rose petal baths everyday, who knows. We don’t get that information, but we all know someone who has struck out on their own away from everything they’ve ever known, or maybe they stayed right where they were and just closed the shutters and locked the doors. Either way, it’s not a new story. Sometimes it’s bravery that draws a young heart into the great unknown, but in this story when he leaves his Father (and family), it means Father God, (not just a crappy home life), which is not bravery but something else entirely.

What is new in my mind tonight, however, is wondering how justified and pleased he was with his choice, and that regardless of what his Father thought about it, regardless of the warning bells that went off in his heart, He gave him what he wanted and let him go. no guilt trip, no stern words or warnings. just – let him go. maybe he knew there was nothing he could say to quench the fire of injustice and anger (and pain) in his son’s heart. Perhaps he had said it all before. Maybe he knew that his son would just blow off every word of wisdom as the old, irrelevant ways of thinking, and knew better than to try to convince him to stay although His heart broke to see his son walk away. When a young fiery heart sets it’s sights on something, there’s usually nothing that can stand in it’s way. Look at Romeo.

i found myself wondering how long it actually took for him to burn through all the money. it was probably a good long while. years. he had a very wealthy Father. i wonder if it really effected him that much when he started running out of money and his friends began to fall away. My guess is that his thinking had become so twisted that he couldn’t see clearly enough to even know he was becoming bankrupt. but his heart and mind had already been bankrupted and soon what was inside was reflected on the outside when he found himself facedown in the pig slop – the ultimate shame.

he never stopped being his Father’s son, it’s true. even when he didn’t want to be anymore. even when he imagined himself above the perceived limitations of his Father’s house, even when he was face down in the mud. i don’t know, i just keep thinking about it. he had taken himself out of any position of power or influence his Father had afforded him, even though for a while he had friends and admirers and seemed to really be proving himself. While he had lots of money he held a place he had carved out by his own demands and arrogance. (Truly we can manifest whatever outcome we really set our minds to.) But in the end he didn’t prove anything he set out to prove and the only thing he had left – the only thing he knew to still be true was that he was a son and had a Father somewhere that maybe against all odds, still loved him.

What i keep wondering and what is churning in my heart is – was there anything that could have been said to him to keep him home and save him from the pain? or did he really need to walk that line and experience that level of isolation, suffering, hopelessness and loss of faith to bring him to the next phase of his journey? Would he have never understood what he really had  and continued in depression, misery and anger unless he walked this way?…. you just can’t know. Staying didn’t seem to bring any greater revelation to his big brother until his little brother came home and he came face to face with his own resentment. so you just have to wonder – do some just need to walk the path that leads them away from home while some stay in their Father’s house – both completely dependent upon the love of the Father to reveal the truth to them. Because it’s true – the love of the Father is the thing that draws us to Him anyway, which was true for the younger son. which is true for us all. The problem is our ability to clearly hear Him diminishes the farther we get from his house.

we all know the end of the story. his Father running to him restoring him to his rightful place of influence and i even believe (although the story doesn’t specify) that his Father also restored his full inheritance… because that’s what a good Father does. so what if he hadn’t come home? what if he had died face down in the mud with the pigs? what happens to a son who squanders his inheritance and despises his family name? the Father still loves him, he is still his son… but what then? If by agreeing with the Father we become more and more the image of Christ, it follows that when we turn away we lose more and more of our identity as sons and daughters and are lost and begin to die.  if we become what we behold, its true for whatever we are looking at… at the end he was looking at the pigs – becoming someone that didn’t resemble his Father any more, which might be what he set out for, but couldn’t fathom what it would cost him.

All that said, tonight i let my heart rest in what the Psalmist says in chapter 139:7-10

Where can i go from Your Spirit? Or where can i flee from Your presence?
If i ascend to heaven, You are there; if i make my bed in Sheol, You are there.
If i take the wings of the dawn, if i dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your right hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
when the son returned he knew he wasn’t worthy to be called his son. his father didn’t argue the point with him, instead threw a party saying that his dead son had come back to life. his son that was lost had been found.

I am the older brother who stayed behind in my Father’s house. I did not stay because I was afraid to leave, but because I love my Father.  I have my own choices to make – choices to love freely and give freely as i have freely received –  and continue to receive all the benefits of being at home. So ringing in this new year i leave my questions in the hands of my good Father who knows me and sees my heart and tears and hopes for the future. I’ll learn from the story of the Prodigal Son and not waste what is in my hand, but instead take up my Papa on the “what’s mine is yours” deal. Here’s to the new year. Here’s to trusting my Father with — everything. This parable just keeps whispering to my heart that there’s more, always more that i just didn’t see before so i’m here with my eyes and heart wide open and until He reveals more, I’ll be about my Father’s business, in my Father’s house.

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4 thoughts on “what if he had died face down in the mud with the pigs?

  1. So many parents with sons and daughters that have left the Father’s house, cry, mourn, and seek the prayers of others for the wayward to come back to God. What you have said raises the issue of trusting God with that child even while they are running away. If only we as parents could be so trusting of the Father that we could instead pray, “Lord, if need be to find himself with his face in the mud of the pigs, I know you will never leave him and will bring him home.” This is not usually the case, however. We see panic stricken parents, worn by fear and worry. It’s so much easier after they return. And there is always the threat of “what if he doesn’t return?” Most parents think the worst that could happen must be avoided by all costs and effort—but sometimes the worst is the best thing that can happen.

    I watched a concert yesterday on NRB of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir at a prison in Louisiana. Most of the inmates there are in for life. They have committed every evil crime one can imagine. The warden of the prison is a man of God. When he came to the prison, violence and all manner of cruelty was going on. He built a church in the middle of the prison. It was said by him, “When they are in prison, they are a prisoner; but when they go into the chapel, they are in church and they lose the sense of hopelessness. Now I have two churches in view and another one is being built within sight of these two. The steeples are the highest points within the prison walls.” He also started a bible college in the prison. The results are astounding. Violence is down, hope is resident, Jesus Christ is the peace. The men are completely different.

    One after another of the men gave their stories. They told about mothers that instilled in them the word, “When you are in trouble, call on Jesus. He will help you.” These men went away from faith and into the streets, gangs, and violent results. Everyone of them said, “If I had not been captured and sentenced, I would be dead and in hell today. When I got in confinement and saw the concrete walls and the bars, I knew my life was over. I remembered what my mother told me . . . that was when I cried to God and He heard me and delivered me. I have peace; I have a purpose for living.”

    I find that a strange thing to say: I have a purpose for living. But these men were dead and now they are alive. . . and they are giving life to others in those prison walls.

    If the prodigal had “come to his senses” in a pig pen with other men, I feel sure he would have gone back to evangelize them . . . to tell them they are loved and desired by the Father. Strangely (and yet not so much) no father was mentioned by any of these men. But every one of them mentioned a mother that took them to church and instilled in them the One to call when they hit the bottom. Thank God for those mothers.

    I wish everyone could see that concert. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. Prisoners in an arena weeping, clapping their hands, raising their faces and hands to the God being praised. Some with their heads wrapped in towels to contain the tears. Who can resist the love of God? Who can be sorry that these men who were captured by whatever drove them into violence ended up in a prison called Angola where they finally fell face forward into the mud of despair and called on God the Father to save them? They are not sorry for that . . . they see what must have been a horrible end become their salvation.

    The warden gives the men there that die a burial of great ceremony and dignity. He said, “Why should we not? They have finished their sentence, they have paid the price of judgement that was handed to them. We give them a burial of dignity.” He related those that are put to death—related how he holds their hands and prays with them and says, “You are going to meet the One that loves you most and I will see you again.”

    That is . . . the prodigal goes home.

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  2. I really enjoyed this post. Thank you for sharing. I have a niece that I’m going to send this to. She is 20 and struggling with living at home with parent’s rules etc. speaking from my experience of having a daughter who lived at home until the age of 22, parenting has taken on a new roll in the last several years. No longer are daughters getting married and leaving home at 18 or even 21. Children resent being an adult and having to still live by their “house rules”. Parents have difficulty in disciplining an “adult”. It hurt my heart to watch my daughter make choices that were against everything she had been taught. I didn’t want her to have to suffer from the consequences of those bad choices. She saw that as me controlling her. Some things you have to learn on your own. Parents have to let go and allow children to make their own choices and be there for the child offering love and forgiveness just as our Heavenly Father does.

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment. I hope it is an encouragement to your neice. It truly is one of the hardest thing to do – to let the ones you love walk their own way, even when it breaks your heart. Im so glad we have such a good Father.

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