forgiveness: the return of the elder son

Have you asked the Lord for a friend who could come alongside you as you pray for loved ones?  Have you felt the alone-ness that comes when your church body has grown weary of hearing you request prayer for your wandering ones again?

I have felt those cries when my children were walking through deep times of questioning.  And God miraculously sent me friends who understood the weight of caring and wanted to join with me in praying. I have also rejoiced when the Lord allowed me to be in a church body that joined together in praying for those wandering loved ones.

But I have also walked alone in churches that seemed to have forgotten the young ones who had once been a part of their fellowship.  It was during one of those most lonely times, that a dear friend and prayer partner felt led by the Lord to start an Intercessors’ Group in her church.

The book they used during their study was The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen.  This friend and I had walked through many years of praying together for our children, but now we lived almost two hours apart from each other.  She suggested that perhaps the women in her group would allow me to join “long distance.”  And so, once again, God made a way when there seemed to be no way.

On one occasion when I was visiting my friend, I was able to be with the group in person, and I shared what the Lord had put on my heart. I began by relating a dream I had 2 years prior to our meeting . . .

“In my dream I was in a large house with two adjoining front rooms. In the first room there was a women’s Bible Study, and I was participating.  I got up to move to the adjoining room, where another women’s Bible Study was happening.  In the doorway between, I started sobbing and almost collapsed, but the Pastor’s wife of my current church jumped up to catch me. I was crying and kept repeating the words, ‘the young ones, oh the young ones!’ And then I woke up (I thought, but I was still dreaming) and told my husband about my dream. He said ‘you were interceding, just like Ruth.’  And then I actually did wake up, to find that there were real tears running down my cheeks.”

As together we studied the chapter in Henri Nouwen’s book concerning the elder son, I felt the Lord ask me:

“How does the elder son in our passage compare to Ruth?”

When Nouwen looked at the Father’s love that was given to the elder son, he quoted Shakespeare’s Sonnet on Love: “Love is not love which alters when alteration finds.”   The Father’s love is unchanging – it alters not. In response to the elder son’s complaints about the younger son, the Father spoke:

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.'” ~ Luke 15:31

When the elder son wanted to be justified in his position of complaining about all of the wrong that had been done, he showed that he did not understand the Father’s heart of love that could not be altered by any circumstance.

The Father would ask the Elder Son to take up forgiveness—which is bearing the cost—for all the wrong that had been done. In the same way, our Father asks us to forgive the younger son for leaving, and to forgive the spectators, the church, the world, for not acknowledging our service—our son-ship.

When we truly see the forgiveness the Father has already extended to us, it is then we can receive the gift to be able to extend that same forgiveness to others.  And in that place of being the forgiven and forgiving elder brother, we long to see and celebrate our brothers coming home.

But where does Ruth fit in?

Ruth CHOSE to bear the cost of Naomi’s disobedience with her.  After all, it was Naomi, with her husband, who had run away from their Father’s house.  Ruth was not guilty, and she was not bound to stay with Naomi. She could have rejoined her people along with Orpah, but she chose to say to Naomi:

“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” ~ Ruth 1:16

She chose to identify and bear the cost with Naomi. She ultimately took up intercession for Naomi through her union with Boaz (the Kinsman-Redeemer) and gave to Naomi the child of her inheritance. And she saw the answer that God gave: Naomi, no longer “bitter” but “full.” (Ruth 4:15-16)

Here in this place, as my children have moved into their own lives, I am still praying for them. They have lifted their eyes and hearts to Jesus, but yet I know there is still a deeper healing that each will walk through.  And there are other “second children” of mine, children of very dear friends, who yet remain in places of deep wounding and shame.  And I can hear God asking the same question He posed to me at the end of that class, more than 10 years ago:

Will I stay in the place of the complaining Elder Son, feeling justified in my stance of being hard to those who have wronged me and my children?

Or, will I like Joseph say “What you meant for harm, God has meant for good,” and like Ruth, “your God shall be my God.”  He has already given the gift of forgiveness, bearing the cost, and there is no alteration in His love. Everything He has, He has given to us . . .

Will you pray with me?

Dear Father, Thank you that You truly do see the cost of this alabaster box of praise in our hearts. There is nothing that is hidden from You.  Will You forgive us for holding onto the hurt and shame that was heaped on us? Will You forgive us for feeling justified in our complaining hearts?

You have given us so much and invited us into Your very presence. Our hearts are broken with the forgiveness that You have poured over us. Now we ask for You to allow us the gift of forgiving those who have wronged us.  We want to walk with You and to bear the cost with You. We rejoice in Your salvation that You will bring to our loved ones. In the precious name of Your son Jesus we pray. Amen

—-Bettie, for the Beloved Prodigal Team.

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21 thoughts on “forgiveness: the return of the elder son

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    1. Dear Lisa, Thank you so much for sharing in this process with me here. Our Lord is so gracious to keep taking the forgiveness and healing deeper! Love and Hugs to you dear friend!

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  1. Oh, Bettie, it’s clear that God was gently preparing you for a prayer ministry and giving you a particularly tender and compassionate heart for the prodigals, especially those young ones who once were close to Him and fell away. It shines through all your writing. Yet the truth you share here about God’s love not altering at all despite how we might stray from Him, is beautiful news for us all and welcome reassurance for our wayward souls! Once again, we are greatly blessed to hear more fragments of your personal faith story. It’s inspiring and moving. Thank you, dear friend! xo ❤

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    1. Dear Joy,
      Oh yes! What beautiful reassurance to know that God’s love cannot be altered in whatever way that we might stray! And that is still such a thought that hardly is fathomable to me. I am so prone to wander, and to look away from Him. But He never changes, and He never stops loving. I pray that I can grasp more of His beauty there, and let Him plant that deeper in my own heart. There is so much more love to be shared with those we care for, and with all who are in our lives. Thank you so much for your love and encouragement here, my friend!! Love and hugs to you today! xoxo

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  2. Dear Bettie, what a beautiful post! I love the reminder that God’s love never changes, and He always forgives us. Sometimes it’s hard for us to forgive those who have hurt us or our children, but when we remember how He forgives us we are able to forgive others. When we don’t forgive it gnaws away at our souls and dampens our joy. I pray that God will help me to always have forgiveness in my heart rather than hardness. Blessings, love and hugs to you, dear sister! xoxo

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    1. Dear Gayl,
      Oh you are so right when you say that unforgiveness “gnaws at our souls and dampens our joy.” Sometimes I am not even aware why I feel that hardness and dampening, but I am so grateful that God gently uncovers those areas and shows me HIS heart that He would take deeper into my own. His love is so constant towards us and towards our loved ones too. Blessings, love and hugs to you too, dear sister! xoxo

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  3. It is just so incredibly beautiful seeing God’s fingerprints all over your life and your loved ones’ Bettie. To see God bringing dreams to fruition. Taking you deeper and deeper into His love and pouring it back out upon us here and the many others you are loving and interceding for. I am so thankful for you.

    These words are so deep. Words of wisdom only God could gift. Praise Him!!

    Praying this with you. Oh LORD yes, forgive me for holding onto the hurt and shame, for feeling justified to do so, when YOU have died for terribly sinful and unfaithful me. LORD I want to bear the cost with you. I thank You for all the pain and the shame. Use it for Your glory to bring restoration and redemption. Use it to bring Your children home. Amen.

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  4. Dear Anna,
    Amen to your beautiful prayer! I want to be willing to walk with Him through deeper loving also. He asks us to love His children, and sometimes we are so quick to feel that it’s impossible! The shame and the wounds seem too deep. But His Love cannot change, and He is still right there loving. Oh, may I let Him carry me there, weaknesses and all, proclaiming ever louder the grace of Jesus. He does redeem and restore every broken place as we walk with Him. Sending you much love and hugs today my friend!

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  5. God’s love is unchanging… Amen.
    May God Grant that our hearts readily forgives and celebrates homecoming of the younger ones.
    I love you Bettie.
    Your heart is filled with pure grace. I see where your children got the heart for missions 😂😂😂
    May you and your husband find healing and peace in Jesus name.

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    1. Dear Ifeoma,
      Thank you so much for your prayers for us! And, what a blessing when Jesus stirs our hearts to celebrate those homecomings, and to rejoice in forgiveness! Oh, how I pray to see more of His grace and mercy flowing over our hearts. Blessings, love and hugs to you dear friend!

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    1. Yes, I am so touched when the Lord highlights a Scripture, and causes us to think about it in a new way! His Spirit brings His Word alive in us that way. I am so grateful that He spoke to you here today. May He continue to bless you!

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  6. Thank you for this beautiful offering. I love your story of how God has worked behind the scenes (even through your dreams) in your life. We need only pause and look to see God is always with us and never stops loving us. We then need to turn this act of grace back to ourselves. can we do the same for others in an act of grace and God did and still does?

    I love reading your words and am blessed with how you wove the story of the prodigal son with the story of Ruth.

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  7. Dear Mary,
    I am so thankful that you were blessed here today. Our Lord truly does work behind the scenes over so many years in our lives, and the lives of our children. I love how you ask the question if we can pause and then offer the same grace that the Lord has given to us. Blessings to you dear sister!

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    1. I am so grateful that the Lord encouraged your heart here today. I feel the same way–He keeps taking that topic of forgiveness deeper into my heart, also. May you be blessed with His presence and care!

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