Most of us are familiar with the story of the prodigal son – the young man who demanded his inheritance and squandered everything in wild living. I had my own version: I discarded the God of my upbringing to a complete lack of belief in anything but my own ability to exert reason and control over the nice life I would give myself.
A few months after I committed my life to Jesus, I prayed thanks to God for a successful surgery a friend had undergone that day. I also thanked God for bringing the friend and his family into my life – for their example of Jesus’ faithful and gentle love drew me to want to know more about Him, which led to my wanting to know Him more.
I knelt beside my bed in the dark that night (yes, just like a child in a picture), and had a very vivid memory of a recurring dream I had throughout my childhood, and on a few rare occasions as an adult. The last time I remember having the dream was around the time my Dad died some seven months earlier. But I had the dream that night while wide awake.
In the dream I am about ten years old, and I have sought solace by wandering the trails of the park at the end of the block I grew up on. The wooded hills of the park created a bowl that emptied into a grassy expanse of ball-playing fields. I wandered the trails in the woods and ran in the fields until near dinner time. Instead of climbing the hill back to our street, I walked the long way around – a trek through the industrial park in the valley, past the supermarket, up a long, steep hill, then down an avenue toward home. The avenue was one of the beloved streets that filled my childhood city – lined with green tunnels of elm trees that created a cathedral-like effect overhead. I finally reached my street, turned onto it, and stopped. My house was not in the middle of the familiar block where it belonged. My pulse quickened along with my pace as I searched frantically for my house. How could I be so lost on my own block? As panic rose, I always awoke.
This time, though, I was already awake, but felt no panic. I wondered why the dream came back so vividly.
I always thought the dream reflected the insecurity I felt growing up with an alcoholic father – never knowing when he came home if Dad would be sober and nice, or drunk and surly. But on that night, God reminded me of the lost son who eventually came home in shame and humility, and I saw something new in the dream – and then the dream departed forever.
“…. But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. So they began to celebrate.’” Luke 15:21-24
Such extravagance! The parable was not about the wayward son, but about the father and his prodigious love poured out in grace and mercy! I simultaneously laughed and cried with joy, because it is the same extravagance with which God celebrated my coming home to Him, showing me always and only love and forgiveness, joy and acceptance…. showing me that I always belonged to Him and with Him. God pours out such love for each of us.