But while he [the prodigal] was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. [Luke 15:20]
It’s not that I didn’t know what compassion means. And yet, despite reading or hearing the prodigal story hundreds of times, I never put the father in this state: “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” [dictionary.com]
I had always read longing and forgiveness into the father’s response, that he ran to the son out of love and joy. However, I finally see, compassion means that the father was struck by the extent of his son’s calamities and he did the only thing he could do for the young man: show him love and acceptance. The son had punished himself enough already.
The results of the son’s disastrous choices were all over him. Where he had left the family home as a gallant young “prince” among men; he had returned as a slave. And although he would never again be landed (since the he wasted away his inheritance), he was still a son. Life would not be the same in that household: from that point forward, I am guessing the son would have to serve both his father and his brother. He would have to work. And if he wanted an independent life, he would have to create it for himself, save money and rebuild. The one thing he would have was safety and hopefully, a willingness to be instructed.
When I was so sure I knew my way, I too floundered. I wasn’t given my inheritance (for there was none really, in my family’s poverty), but I knew how to work hard and support myself. But I spent all of my money unwisely. I indulged my fantasies without examining them. I looked at the “good life” and yearned for it. And since I couldn’t have it in reality, I tried to have it in reflection: dress that way, spend that way, play that way, drink that way. But of course, the “way” continued to be a pretend world.
I was on a downward spiral. And although I never hit rock bottom as so many must before they turn back or step out of the maelstrom, the direction I was heading is so clear to me in in hindsight. Drugs, alcohol, and carnality were my daily bread. I was not a slave to them yet, but soon. From this, like the prodigal, I turned and tried on the arms of God. I am one of the lucky ones.
But I still have that personality. I still make impulsive choices, I can still spend recklessly, and I indulge both my whims and my children. I still have an addictive personality and can become somewhat obsessed with an idea or incident or food or whatever. I even catch myself yearning for the mega millions jackpot, as though money alone would solve my woes.
It took me a long time, really, to become a true believer, a Christ follower, a Christian even. I could never quite believe I’d done it, given up that other dream of fame and fortune and notoriety in the Big Apple. For the longest time, I went through the motions of extreme faith from “not quite authentic” manifestations of the charisma to dancing and laughing and anything else that would keep my mind occupied and keep me busy. I just kept adding and adding to my plate.
But today, I see that my plate is being stripped away. And I am getting back to the truth of me. And I know my God has compassion for me now just as He/She did when I came to the Spirit quite raw. I am not that other kind of prodigal anymore. I am shedding the layers of “shoulds” and working toward the inner sanctuary of my heart to a me I have never revealed before or known. She has been lost for a long time.