Nurturing Elders: Prodigal Summer Memories

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The prodigal son abandoned: the painting represents the prodigal Son, who is the protagonist of one of the Parables of Jesus Christ, guarding a herd of pigs after having wasted his fortune in leading a dissipated lifestyle. Learn more about this image: bit.ly/2v3pbbY

By the Rev. Paul Graves

The Rev. Paul Graves serves as the chair for the PNW’s Conference Council on Older Adult Ministries.

One of my favorite Biblical stories for decades has been The Prodigal Son parable. For a variety of reasons it appeals to me, both viscerally and professionally. Early in my 21 years of writing a faith-and-values column for the Spokesman-Review, I created a few columns about a fictitious “Church of the Prodigal”. Wish I had served that church!

On July 2, I preached at a neighboring church in Sandpoint. Part of their liturgy is a prayer of confession. Here is what I created for that prayer:

Prayer of Confession for Prodigals Everywhere

From far away, O God, you see us struggle every day. From far away you see us sometimes looking frantically for ways to find our ways back to the embrace of Your Radical Hospitality. From far away, we reach out for that embrace, but too often it seems out of our reach.

Then, in moments of personal inner-clarity, we realize that you are not the one who is far away! In those moments, we experience you as close as your breath. You are always there, even when we forget to breathe you in and breathe you out. For your life-giving breath that embraces us without condition, we are, even momentarily, so thankful!

I suspect one of primary reasons the Prodigal Son story is so primal for many people is that he represents the very split-soul of human beings. His rebellious story may not be acted out literally by everyone, but I suspect most everyone has had significant urges to be on “my own.” Sometimes with Daddy’s money, sometimes not so much.

But the Prodigal also yearns for something from his father that he never recognizes until he looks up from inside the pigsty. And until he is firmly in his father’s embrace, he never realizes that “something” has been available to him all along.

Perhaps that kind of spiritual whiplash sounds familiar to you. It certainly has for me. I’ve never been in a proverbial pigsty, but I’ve had short stays in a doghouse on occasion — most of them of my own construction!

Oh, a little background on “Prodigal”: it basically means “wasteful”. That’s why we think of a wasted life when we refer to the “prodigal returns.” It’s like we focus so much on the prodigal person that we minimize the “return” part of the cliché.

So how has your summer been going? Which prodigal experience most resonates with you at this point in your life? Do you still feel you may be existing away from home? Have you had experiences that remind you of God’s embrace? That’s where I am this summer.

In late May I turned 75 and still try to fool myself into a younger age (I do know better!). I’m healthy enough to act and feel younger, and they always reduce the mental stress.

In mid-June, my bride and I celebrated 50 years together. We had a wonderful week with our family to enjoy those memories and try to grasp that it actually happened. Then just today (as I write this), I met a man whose parents have been together 67 years! Longevity has its gifts.

Our 51st season together has begun with great blessings. And that impacts how I tend to see the world around me also.

Yes, we fuss greatly about the political turmoil.

I grieve strongly about the death of my first college roommate – who later was a pastoral colleague. I traveled to Wenatchee in mid-July for his memorial service. We grieve for the loss of other friends and the declining health of still others.

But these experiences are not “pigsty” experiences for us! They remind us that the memories we have of childhood friends we still connect with are quite precious. Those friendships will change through future deaths, but they are still enriching our lives now. Thank you!

We are always met by God, whether in the pigsty or on the road home. That promise can keep our memories fresh and hopeful. If we choose!


The Rev. Paul Graves serves as the chair for the PNW’s Conference Council on Older Adult Ministries.

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