A Prodigal Comes Home
Thirteen years ago, I spent Christmas Eve in my apartment with all the lights out. The life I had been living had come crashing down around me, and I didn’t know how I would ever go about picking up the pieces. In my heart I wanted to go home, and yet it seemed so very far away.
I have always identified with the prodigal son. Mine was a family with a rich inheritance – not money, but rather a strong Christian heritage. My father is a pastor and came from two generations of pastors and theologians. I came to know Christ at a young age and tried my best to live the Christian life, and to always feel the way I felt then. I loved the Lord, but at the same time I was rapidly becoming a teenager of my culture. A spirit of rebellion began to grow in my heart. Some of it was obvious – I was a child of the sixties. But some of it was growing quietly underneath the good grades and good performances, so that no one, least of all my parents, ever saw it. In high school, I worked backstage for an opera company, sang in coffee houses, and thought it was all very sophisticated. However, my love for the world simply began growing faster than my love for the Lord. My parents, who had prayed for me since before I was born, continued to pray and love me, and tried to guide me. Most of all they believed in a God who is mighty.
I eventually moved from Colorado to Wisconsin with my Christian heritage packed in my bags and in the back of my mind and the back of my heart. For the most part, I kept it packed away. I knew roughly what I believed, and could even argue for Christianity pretty clearly with professors and friends. But I never let my beliefs change my behavior or my choice of friends in any great way. Soon, I was living far enough from what I professed to believe that I didn’t even struggle with it anymore. A conscience is a pretty easy thing to kill with enough practice. My relationships, my studies, and my work were all pursued from the world’s point of view. Of course, no decision that you make is ever made in a vacuum. Each one is a building block for the next. Specifically, you cannot date a non-believer like I was and expect to marry a Christian. I didn’t, and the result was disastrous.
In 1980, the world that I had carefully erected came crashing down. The man that I had chosen to trust with the rest of my life was gone in a wind of betrayal, broken promises, and heartache. I suddenly found myself completely alone and my heart hungry for home. My parents grieved over the road that I had taken, but still they prayed and loved me, and continued to believe in a mighty God who is bigger than the choices I had made.
As it is with so many things what Satan had intended for evil, God meant for good. Somewhere in that dark time, I began the long walk home. I know how long that walk was for the prodigal son. I believe he must have stood in the road out by the gate and wondered if he would be able to make it all the way to the house without changing his mind and turning around. But as he started down that long path from the gate to the house, his father, who had been watching for him since the day that he left, ran out to meet him. I know the grace of the Father, because my earthly father was waiting for me, too – waiting to tell me that I was still and would always be a child of God, that there was forgiveness in Christ Jesus.
There was great freedom and peace in having my behavior finally come in line with what I believed. The years that followed were the “wilderness years” where, in the midst of my pain, Scripture became my food and drink. The Lord called me to stand firm in my marriage and to pray for my husband. I believed with all my heart that the relationship would be restored. But in the end, I found that the Lord was asking me to stand firm because it was right, not because it would be restored. In 1982, I found myself in divorce court - a place I never wanted to be. Even in that pain, though, the peace and reality of Jesus never left me. The incredible joy of forgiveness and intimacy with my Father God filled me and excited me like nothing ever had and still does now 13 years later. Through it all, my parents prayed and rejoiced and tasted the miracle of God.
That would have been enough. God had restored me and set my feet in a brand new place. But in His grace, the Lord chose a new husband for me – a man who loves the Lord, loves life, and loves me. Our wedding ceremony began with Scripture from Jeremiah that my mother had always claimed for me, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” The verse goes on to say, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me with all of your heart. I will be found by you declares the Lord, and will bring you back from captivity.”
As I watch my parents with our children, I am reminded that we serve a mighty God, who stoops to rescue us from our humanity and will not let His children go. Perhaps you have a child, brother, or sister who is wandering far from God. God knows where they are, and He knows where you are. Pray long and keep on believing. Someone wouldn’t stop praying for me, and I will spend every breath praising the mighty God of my salvation!
Vicki Fleming, a pastor’s kid (PK), lives in Lake Tomahawk, Wis. She is a keynote speaker, worship and small group leader and has been involved in directing musicals. She and her husband have two children.