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Through the Experience of the Prodigal Son

As I was meditating one morning, the story of the prodigal son gently wafted into my awareness. Curiosity about the story began to emerge.  Why this story and why now?  Despite being Catholic and spending much of my childhood in church, it dawned on me that perhaps for the first time I understood the meaning and power of the forgiving father who welcomes home the son that squandered his fortune.  Growing up, I intuitively understood what this parable meant in terms of responding to others – forgive, refrain from judgement, love unconditionally, express gratitude.  Yet it never dawned on me to consider the power of the lesson in terms of how we treat ourselves.
 
The questions began to bubble to the service.  In my own treatment of myself, am I the prodigal son, the self-righteous brother, or the forgiving father?  How do these personas show up in my life? As I reflected on this story, I realized that I often play the role of all three.   I have been given my inheritance in the form of my unique gifts and the Knowing that my source is that of a loving God.  I have not squandered my gifts or Knowing by overuse.  In fact, what I have lavishly and carelessly spent my energy and focus on are all the things that distract me from discovering and using my gifts – fear, addiction to what others think, technology, CNN, food, wine, the Hallmark Channel – anything that lures me away from my True self.  When I am in this space of living lavishly in distraction, I run, perform, demand, judge, and then run harder and faster.  In other words, “I dance as fast as I can” (Barbara Gordon).
 
When I am in this cycle, I am the prodigal son, squandering opportunities to live more fully and joyfully into my Divine purpose.  When I am finally in enough pain or have a mindfulness moment and notice my frantic distraction, I come back to being present.  I come home to myself, making choices to slow down and create space for stillness, reflection, and re-connection.  I create an intentional pause or white space.  For as I have learned (over and over again), it is in the white space of our lives that discovery, understanding, connection, and possibility exist.  It is in the stillness that we rejuvenate and re-connect to be fully present to ourselves and to others in ways that matter.  For me, it is like floating blissfully in water – safe, secure, serene. There is choice inherent in waking up to the return Home.  I can beat myself up with my biggest and best inner critic.  This is my forte.  It is in these moments that I take on the persona of the prodigal son’s self-righteous brother.  How could I have gotten so off track and wasted such precious time and opportunity for deep connection with myself, others, and the Divine? The harshness of my judgement becomes punitive and unforgiving, resulting in shame and humiliation.  How is that helpful?  It is not.  But it is a well-entrenched pattern that I can choose to change.
 
Instead, I can decide to be the welcoming father full of unconditional love and forgiveness.   I can own the fact that I got off track and be gentle with myself as I would with my children.   I can reflect back and begin to identify the people and circumstances that trigger and lead me to the alluring place of squandering by allowing fear and ego to rule. I can reflect on the lessons learned and give myself the compassion that the prodigal son is given in the story.  And I can begin again – mindfully, compassionately, lovingly.
 
So why this story and why now?  Because it’s time.  As the saying goes – when the student is ready the teacher will appear.  In this case, the teacher is the parable of the Prodigal Son.  As I continue to respond to the call to move deeper into my most authentic self, this story is an invitation to notice the quality of self-compassion and its impact on my ability to discover and use my sacred gifts in service of others.  In becoming awake to these lessons of self-righteousness, humility, and compassion, I unwrap another layer of understanding that supports my commitment to fearlessly live my fullest and best life.
 
With gentle love and compassion, consider yourself.   Are you the son, the brother, the father?  How does that show up for you in your life and connection with yourself? With others? What impact is that having?  What do you want to do about it?