The parable of the Prodigal Son is a well-known and popular parable of Jesus for good reason. Most of us can identify with the wayward character in some way. My life course has followed that of the prodigal son in significant ways. I understand what it is to journey to a “far country,” squander the blessing of my Father, and then experience the forgiveness and renewed blessing of that same Father.
When I was in my early 40s, I became involved in an extra-marital affair that ultimately destroyed my family, significantly damaged my Christian witness, and, for many years, made it impossible for me to pursue God’s calling on my life. This affair began a prodigal season in my life during which I went through a string of very dishonorable relationships. During this time I walked away from my marriage, lost years of being in any kind of relationship with my son, and caused real and significant pain in the lives of many people. Prodigals never understand at the outset of their journey just how much pain they will cause in the lives of other people. Neither do they understand the important things they will lose and never get back. Time can be a relentless and often cruel enemy.
At some point along the way I realized I was living in the pig slop of life and determined I needed to return to my Father. I have found it interesting that the loving Father in the story of the Prodigal Son was not waiting at the edge of the pig pen. The point of decision in a prodigal’s life may be critical, but it is just the beginning. The journey home for the prodigal was not instantaneous. He first set his eyes homeward, then began placing one foot in front of the other. It took time. He certainly carried the odor of the slop with him which, no doubt, left a memorable impression on those he encountered along the way.
So in my own life the journey home was not instantaneous. It took years. As I journeyed I carried the smell of my failures with me. There are many out there, perhaps reading this, who can testify to the stench of my life and the impact it had on them in those days. From a distance, the prodigal looked like most others. You couldn’t smell him or see just how tattered were the rags he was wearing. Only those who got close can tell just how impoverished I was.
I remember the day I heard the voice of my Father say, “Welcome home.” He knew I was coming. He was waiting.
My life is different now. I am married to a woman who understands my past and loves me in spite of it. At the same time she refuses to let me grow too comfortable in the grace I have received. The prodigal was home, but there were things to do for the Father. He had to leave the past firmly in the past while also learning from it so as not to repeat it. My wife encourages and enables me to do that.
I am home now. Certainly there are moments when I reflect on those days and grieve for the pain I caused. Those who encountered the prodigal on his journey home would not recognize him after a good shower and some new clothes. He may have been tempted, at times, to retrace his steps for the sake of apology, but prudence would have dictated that he stay close to home. I, too, would want to apologize to the many who may yet smell the lingering odor of having gotten too close to me. Please forgive me. I am genuinely sorry for the pain, but I dare not revisit those places that allured me. I am home and need to stay close to my Father. He has work for me to do.
For those who may be wondering, my confession and return to the Father has not been purely a private experience. The party for the returning prodigal was a very public event. In a similar way, my heavenly Father has pushed me to give public testimony to His grace. My departure was public, so has been (and continues to be) my return.
That is why I am placing this story on my web site for anyone to read. If you wish to know Rick Edwards, then you must know this story. I have many regrets, but this is not about my regrets as much as it is about His grace. He has welcomed me home in spite of my failures. Nonetheless, it is important to me that I give public affirmation to His love.
In addition to this article, I have been given the opportunity to tell my story to more than one church, including my home church. Below is a brief video clip in which I shared my failures with my own church family at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lebanon, Tennessee. This clip was excerpted from a sermon on the life of David called From Failure to Legacy. I delivered this message on Sunday morning, October 7, 2012. From Failure to Legacy can be viewed here in its entirety.
Confession and Hope