“He came to his senses.”
After leaving home and forsaking the fellowship of his father and community, the prodigal came to his senses, Jesus tells us. He realized that what he thought would fulfill him–wealth, popularity, licentious living–only revealed the deep emptiness within him of which only a glorious homecoming could ever fill. He realized that his self-love could never match the love of his father; his relationships could never match the peace found in his familial relationships; his adventures could never replace the peace of home. And so he returned with longing and a hope–a hope that even being around his father as a servant could bring wholeness and restoration. The father restores him as a son; the community restores him as a member; and their’s is celebration for a lost boy come home and an empty soul made whole.
We’ve all known that lost boy, haven’t we? A friend, sibling, or even ourselves running away from family and faith to pursue a selfish and sinful life. And hopefully we’ve seen many of these return, having come to their senses and realized their emptiness away from home. The parable provides such a powerful picture of the emptiness of sin. And we all look at this parable and proclaim: “See! Don’t you see the emptiness and longing that running away from your family and faith can bring? Don’t you see the emptiness of being lost?” And rightly so. But as I sit here in Charlotte, away from my family, my church, my community–away from my home–I wonder: what about those who are not lost? What about those who are just gone?
I’m not the prodigal son who’s run away from home. I’m the opposite in most respects. I’ve left home to pursue my calling to earn a seminary degree so that I can serve God wherever He might place me. I’m not resisting obedience by leaving home–I’m living it! And I’m not wasting my time and money on frivolous and sinful things. Even still, I feel as though I can relate more to the prodigal son than most. I, too, sense that emptiness. I, too, feel that longing for home.
After 6 weeks in Charlotte, the newness has worn off. I’m immersed in the daily grind of school work and teaching prep, and it isn’t enough to distract me from the obvious reality: this is not my home. I walk into church as a stranger and am reminded by every conversation that I am not known. I sit in class as a nameless student, reminded daily that my thoughts don’t matter because I’m not known. I walk the streets and sit in the coffee shops and no one talks to me because I’m not known. The kindness of people’s smiles cannot cloud the fact that they do not know me and, when pushed, do not really care. For the first time in my life I’m a stranger, and I feel the emptiness of that every day.
And it becomes harder when I hear from those back in Dayton and am reminded that I cannot share in their lives like I used to. One of my best friends since birth just became engaged, and I wasn’t there to share in it. My alma mater is transitioning, and I’m not there to do anything about it. My church family is living life, and I cannot live it with them.
I am like the prodigal, for I am far from home. And every day I’m forced to come to my senses and see that the only way I can make it in this new place, so far from home, is to run to the Father who is never far away: the Father who knows me better than anyone else: the Father whose arms are home to all who feel like strangers. I know that I will soon find a church and meet loving friends. I know that sometime soon Charlotte will feel a little more like home. But as I wait, I know I can rest in our Heavenly Father, the One who has made His home within me.