They were so caught up in themselves and their selfish desires that they got lost to the concerns of others. Without recognising the wealth of love around them, they were the prodigal, a child of abundance squandering it away. What drew them back was a memory of love, faint and small, when the soul hit rock bottom.
We all at times suffer levels of naivety and ignorance. We don’t know what we don’t know. In our prodigal pride, we wander away until we remember that allure of love and we wake up.
We can be so blind that we miss the obvious. Everyone around can see what is happening, but we blindly go on. Warnings given and dismissed.
‘I don’t have a problem; it’s you that has the problem’
Denial, avoidance, blame shifting, all can keep one delusionally bound.
I have spent time with people who are so unwell in their mental health that their reality is distorted away to being dangerous for themselves and others. Psychosis paints a reality of hearing voices, seeing things and smelling things no one else experiences.
What about where there isn’t a diagnosable mental illness?
The Judas Goat
They are not used as much now, but once upon a time in the abbatoir, a goat was trained to lead the sheep from one yard into another. Unbeknown to the sheep this new found leader was leading them to their death.
How many of us have lost our way in life at times? We thought we would be ok, but then we discovered we were actually lost.
A prophet called Isaiah compared us to being like sheep
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. Isaiah 53:6 MSG
We all have a problem. We all need to admit our need for help.
This stubborn self-reliance keeps us wandering off in the wrong direction.
This attitude of ‘I know best’ keeps us locked into being like a sheep thinking its heading for green pastures whereas all along its following a Judas goat into a slaughterhouse.
Dr Albert Maslow proposed that humans have a hierarchy of needs.
Starting at the base with our most basic needs of food, water, warmth and rest we progress up to having a fulfilling life. Read more here Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
The prodigals hierarchy
It’s interesting to read the story of the loving father/ prodigal son in the light of Maslow’s hierarchy. The son left the father where every need was met, but it wasn’t until he reached rock bottom, where his most basic needs were threatened, that he came to his senses.
He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any. That brought him to his senses. Luke 15:11-32
The memory of love sparked in the prodigals brain and turned the prodigal around. Out of the stench of a pig pen, he remembered the generous love that his father had for all.
The Father, full of love, was always looking for his son. He didn’t chase after him and didn’t rescue him, instead, he waited, watched and then welcomed.
That prodigal would have said ‘I don’t have a problem’ yet the Father would have known every problem he had and every problem he was going to face.
I once was blind, but now I see.
How do we help the blind prodigal?
- We desire the change in others, not for our sake, but for their relationship with God.
This is not about us. It’s about the relationship that needs to be reconciled between the prodigal and God. This crisis is also an invitation for us in some way to review our life for blind spots.Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first & we lose both first and second things. C.S.Lewis
- We pray with an awareness of our prodigal blindness.
Out of an awareness of own propensity to ‘wander’ and ‘get lost’ we can pray with self-brokenness and honesty. It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.” James 4:6
- We don’t run after them.
Often we need to let them go. Certainly, if the person is mentally unwell, we need to intervene gently.
- We don’t rescue them from the natural consequences of their choices.
Those natural consequences of going down the hierarchy of needs can shake a person’s reality back to normal.
- We pray for a trickle memory of love to course its way through their thinking.
Just a memory, a little reminder of the love that was theirs can start the cracking of the delusion.
- We pray for a change in direction.
Just an ever so slight movement of hope away from the direction of the pig pen. We may desire a repentance, a full-blown acknowledgement of error, but it always begins with a slight change in direction. Pray for the little and hope for the large.
- We never give up watching and waiting.
We recognise this is not about us and what we want. Instead, this is about the relationship between the prodigal and God. We join with the family of three and watch and wait.
What would it be like if all of us were looking out for each other the way the father did for the son. Consistently looking, hoping and praying.
Quotes to consider
- The pain of aloneness and pointlessness is piercing. It demands relief. That single fact — that the pain of living apart from God is unbearable — exposes our sinfulness as horribly grotesque and foolish. We insist on finding relief without coming to God on His terms. Larry Crabb
- To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. Brennan Manning
- The world’s love is and always will be conditional. As long as I keep looking for my true self in the world of conditional love, I will remain “hooked” to the world-trying, failing, and trying again. It is a world that fosters addictions because what it offers cannot satisfy the deepest craving of my heart. Henri J.M. Nouwen
Questions to answer
- Think of a time when you ‘wandered off’. What brought you back?
- Why does it take getting to the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to bring us to our senses?
- What are some ‘Judas goats’ that people so easily get led astray by?
Image cc: Oscar Keys
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