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Monday, September 13, 2010

On Trust and the Prodigal's Mom

My bride of 27-plus years and I had a conversation on the phone today that got me thinking. She wondered out loud what the mother of the Prodigal Son must have felt like. We really don’t get her story in Luke 15. “You know the father looked for his son every day, but he still had to make a living.” True, beautiful bride of mine. We may get the idea that the older son was doing all the chores and that is why he got so self-righteous at the return of the prodigal, but I don’t believe it. This father was a hard worker and while he never gave up, he had to get his work done.

What do you think the Mom was doing all that time? Was she thinking that the dad must be insane to keep the light on for a son who had hurt him so badly? Was she staying awake at night, wondering if her son was okay, heartbroken that she couldn’t be there to nurture him? Had she mentally written him off because of the pain he had caused the family? Was she conflicted because, though she worried about his safety, the house was a more peaceful place with the self-centered one off in some far country–out of sight, out of mind? Was she wondering when she would get her husband back as he seemed to be far away as well with his daily treks up the driveway hoping to see his boy coming home?

I included the word “trust” in this article because I think it was the key for both parents. The father had to trust his Heavenly Father for the protection of the wayward son. The husband and wife had to trust each other. Even though they were on the emotional roller coaster of parenthood, I hope that somehow they knew that when they had exchanged “better or worse” vows, it meant their love and commitment could--and would--survive the drama of a son who had disregarded, disrespected, and disappeared. The mother had to trust that, in her absence, the One who can comfort and awaken the spiritual man within would do so.

This Sunday, I will begin a sermon series on Trust. The conversation that Judi and I had reminded me of how complex trust can be, and how difficult it is to restore once it has been broken. Robert Schuller told a simple but poignant story:

One problem I remember was a time when our son Bob broke our trust and lied to his mother and me. He was still young, dating Linda, his wife-to-be, and was only allowed to see her on certain nights. Well, one night he wanted to see her without permission and told us he was at his friend's house. When we found out the truth, there was a real scene between us. He had violated our trust; it was like a crack in a fine cup that marred its appearance.

In the confrontation, I smashed a fine English tea cup on the floor and told Bob that to restore our trust would be like gluing that cup back together again. He said, "I don't know if I can do that." And I said, "Well, that's how hard it is to build confidence and trust again." The outcome was that Bob spent literally weeks carefully gluing the pieces together until he finished. He learned a very important lesson.

Dr. Robert H. Schuller, Homemade, Jan 1985

I am sure the “lesson learned” was not as simple as the story sounds. It never is. We all hope for the happy ending of a son learning his lesson by gluing glass together, but it is not that easy. Unkind things have been said, promises have been broken, lies have been told, words have been distorted. Trust has been lost . Only grace and humility will restore it.

The restoration of trust is three-dimensional. We have to trust God. He is the Creator of the Universe, of our hearts and minds, and of our relationships. We have to trust that God is at work in us, that we are good because He pronounced us good and, as He sustains, we can believe in ourselves. Finally, we have to trust each other. We must, at the very least, be willing to dialog about differences. If both parties enter with a heart of humility, healing can take place. The prodigal son “came to his senses” and came home in tearful repentance. The father surrendered his right to be right and threw a party for his son’s return.

In the coming weeks, we will examine “Personal Trust” which involves the first two of the three dimensions. Then we will look at “Corporate Trust” which is more difficult, because as the Word of God opens us up for spiritual surgery, it may hurt a little. I pray for me and you that it is a “good hurt” and results in persons of faith, living as brothers and sisters in a community of faith. Not perfect, but forgiven.


  1. Thanks for these thoughtful and provacative insights into a familiar story.