Many of us are familiar with the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, so here is the SparkNotes version:
A man had two sons and the younger son wanted his share of the estate, so he got his portion of his inheritance early, left home, and spent all of his wealth. Then, a famine hit the region and he found himself eating with pigs out of a trough. The son humbled himself and came home where his father welcomed him with open arms. The father celebrated, but the older brother was jealous that his father killed the fattened calf and threw a big party but had never done the same for him. The father responds in verses 31 and 32: “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
Dr. Strahan analyzed this Bible story with my Story of Jesus class during my freshman year of college. Instead of just focusing on the grace that the father shows in the story, he spent time looking at the point where the son reaches rock bottom.
When asked about how the younger son hit the lowest point in his life, most Americans say it is because he was reckless and squanders his wealth. While this is part of the story, there is a surprising viewpoint in different countries. Dr. Strahan explained that most people in Tunisia or Tanzania, I can’t remember which one, pointed out that the reason for the son hitting his low point was because of the large famine that hit the region. While Americans focus on the recklessness of the individual, others look at the larger circumstance that was completely out of his control.
When I think about this difference, I’m reminded to reflect on my way of thinking towards others and myself.
When I see someone drop out of college or show up late to work, my initial thought is that they lack discipline or work ethic. I don’t take the time to think that someone may be having family issues that he needs to take care of instead of finishing his college degree at this time. I ignore the fact that someone may be late to work because she has to drop her child of at school every morning. They don’t lack discipline or work ethic, they have more important priorities.
If I fall short of my expectations, is it entirely my fault or are there outside factors that influenced the result? Instead of beating ourselves up for not being good enough, we can accept the walls that stood in our way. However, this isn’t an opportunity to blame every lack of success on the challenges that stood in your way.
There are typically factors affecting people’s lives that are hard to see. Maybe people have lost their jobs, homes, or families. Every situation is different, but maybe they are in their current position because of something they can’t control instead of solely the choices they make. Are you solely looking at the actions of people in your life or are you looking at the circumstances that surround them?
We are all the prodigal son sometimes.
I appreciate you.