To Dance with the Prodigal

For Tierney, whose zest for God inspires me

The prodigal son. It’s one of the most powerful stories ever told, and I never liked it. The younger son of a wealthy land owner greedily demanded his inheritance, then squandered it on foolishness. Hungry and destitute in a foreign land, the sonreturned home in shame to beg his father’s forgiveness. The father was overjoyed at the prodigal’s return and threw a big party to celebrate. The older brother, however, resented the fanfare. He had labored for years without reward while his reckless brother got a banquet just for showing up. Where’s the fairness in that?
As a dutiful older sibling myself, I can relate.
It wasn’t until I had a prodigal of my own that I began to understood.
The funny thing is that my prodigal is not even real. She’s a tattered stuffed bunny named Susannah.
Susannah began life in the crib of our infant daughter, Tierney. At the beginning, Susannah was clean and soft and well-behaved, sitting quietly as Tierney’s chubby fists squashed her velvety fur. But like many of us, Susannah became gray and balding, and the stuffing bunched around the middle. How Tierney loved her.
For the next eight years, Tierney and Susannah were inseparable. Susannah was so well known around town that people greeted her by name as if she was as real as the child who carried her. When I used an infant sling to cradle our new baby against my chest, Tierney tied a bandana around her belly so she could carry Susannah. During beach outings, Susannah sat on the towel to guard Tierney’s pail and shovel from crabs and fishies. It was a sweet and powerful love.
Unfortunately, Susannah developed the bad habit of wandering off when Tierney wasn’t looking. It happened at the grocery store, and the airport, and the playground. We always managed to find her until that terrible day when Tierney was 8. That’s when Susannah got lost for real.
We searched every closet and every cubby. We scoured the garage and turned the house upside down, without success. Poor Tierney was heartbroken. Susannah was on Tierney’s mind every night as she fell asleep with empty arms, and every morning as she drowsily reached for her tattered friend before remembering that Susannah wasn’t there. For months on end, Tierney never stopped looking and she never stopped grieving.
Then came the scream of delight when Susannah was discovered in an unused trash bin. Tierney was almost incoherent with joy as she clutched her beloved bunny and sobbed. Oblivious to the world, they danced around like lovers, spinning and laughing and kissing and weeping.
And as I watched, I could picture the father running to meet his wayward son, sobbing with joy.
It humbled me, and reminded me again why God came among us. Yes, it was for dutiful older siblings, but also for wandering prodigals who sometimes lose their way.
And until they come home, God never stops looking and He never stops grieving. And He never gives up.