-This interpretation is brought to you today by the pot of coffee foolishly consumed after the kids went to bed.
Often in marriage restoration ministries the term prodigal is applied to the spouse that wants out of, has left, or refuses to continue to work on the marriage. I have been thinking about the analogy lately and the role of the father and his two sons. I think many times the waiting spouse views themselves as the father. Letting “their prodigal” go until they finally “wake up” someplace they never thought they would be and more clearly see the goodness of home. It is a mistake to see it that way!
The waiting spouse is not the father. The father is God. God gives us everything. God let’s us choose what to do with it. When we wonder away God waits for us patiently to see how much He loves us. When we are repentant and ready to come home, He is waiting there with open arms and a robe to cover us in our vulnerable broken state while He restores us to His family. If, as a spouse waiting and praying for the restoration of your marriage, you feel like the father you are not in the right place. You are not the most important person your spouse is off in the “far country” missing. You are not what your spouse needs or is longing for. You can not “restore” your spouse to their place within the family. You are not the person your spouse needs to first acknowledge their “baggage”, “weaknesses”, and/or “sins” to. It is erroneous even arrogant to think this way. That role belongs to God.
There is a third character, the brother in this story (and a fourth I will blog about someday too). Many people in the “left behind” spouse position can relate to the brother and the “he doesn’t deserve” attitude. It is the mentality of this brother that leads to “I could never forgive, trust, whatever again…”, or “I deserve someone better”, or “It’s too late” type thinking. The return or the first coming of your spouse to God the Father should always be celebrated no matter the state of your relationship to your spouse. But it was fit that we should make merry and be glad, for this thy brother was dead and is come to life again; he was lost, and is found. Luke 15:32 The brother was so focused on the perceived inequity of the situation and his own goodness (victimhood, martyrdom, loyalty, perfection,etc.), he lost sight on what really matters: The relationship of every soul to their Creator and greatest Lover.
In addition to impeding forgiveness, the “I am the good one” attitude kills personal growth and responsibility. Are you saying, “But you don’t know what they did!”? Even if (this is a big if) your marital challenges are 99.9% your spouse’s issue, you are still 100% responsible for your .1%. If you only spend time focusing on your spouse’s issues and how they wronged you then you may some day find that God helped your spouse deal with there 99.9% and your .1% is suddenly 100% of your relationship’s challenges.
How can you help your brother return to the Father from the far country? Since you are not responsible for your brother’s/spouse’s hypothetical 99.9% you also have no power to fix it. This is a very hard lesson for us fix it types to accept. We believe if only they just “read this”, or “talked to so and so”, or “heard that” our spouse would suddenly “see the light”. We are sure if we just word things the right way or do just the right thing, or manipulate the situation for a specific outcome our spouses will finally “see it”. If you are trying to “fix it” your way you will lose perspective on your handling of your own “portion” of His “substance” and be frustrated with the desire to remain in the far country. We are powerless and from our human perspective limited on just how much of the bigger picture we ourselves can not see. However, as the other half of a “one flesh” union, thru prayer, fasting, and perhaps with God’s grace even example by taking on our own issues, we can “stand the gap” Ezechiel 22:30 for our marriages maybe even be a hopeful light for our spouses.
We can not force, speed up, manipulate, or argue them home. After all, the prodigal’s father did not send his brother after him. He knew his second son was needed at home to tend to his portion of the Father’s “substance” Luke 15:12. We must learn to care for our portion so that when our spouse returns and his portion restored our Father can teach us to work together for the betterment of His no longer divided substance. [For you analogy perfectionists: The Father is God (otherwise known as the Creator of all from nothing) so He can and will create, in order to restore, the “wasted” Luke 15:13 substance of the prodigal for His Glory!]
Two more thoughts: The point of marriage is to enable us to better know, love and serve God. Even if our spouses never “see the light” or choose to heal their percent, God will still use our faithfulness to our vows to enflame our hearts with His love and bring us peace, but only if we deal with our hypothetical .1%*.
There are three in marriages: husband, wife and God. If your spouse leaves, there are still two there to care for the garden where love (His substance) grows in the fertile soil of His Sacrament. He is the original Gardner. He doesn’t need you to keep pointing out your spouse’s weeds. Only He knows the best way for your spouse to remove them. He does need you to keep your weeds from killing the seeds He is planting in both your spouse’s heart and yours. Weed out your portion!
*Why “.1” you ask? For all those who’s pain or indignation has hardened their hearts and blinded their eyes, perhaps they may listen and be open to a larger percent if we let them believe it is such a small number for now. 🙂