For the prodigal son, it was a pigsty. For the children of Israel, it was Babylon. For me, it was my husband’s 70 hour work week.
It’s that moment of awareness. Of awakening. Of hitting the bottom, looking around, and realizing where you are. And whose brilliant idea it was to jump in.
It’s when the invading army breaches the wall.
When the mind-numbing television is switched off and the quiet of real life rings in your ear.
When Facebook offers no witty distraction.
When there’s no chocolate in the house.
When you’re mucking out someone else’s pig pen and realize how alone you are.
When you fall exhausted on the sofa after a long, muddy-floor–stinky-diaper–bloody-nose–dirty-laundry–burned-bread–color-outside-the-lines–forgot-how-to-spell–stepping-on-legos–doctor-doesn’t-know-what’s-wrong–scared-of-the-dark–don’t-pick-your-nose–broken-fingernail–spilled-milk–rotten-onion–politics-stink–nobody-hears-me–baby-hurled-on-my-black-sweater–worry-for-stressed-husband–forgot-to-thaw-meat–back-hurts–mom-where-do-babies-come-from–toilet-plugged–what’s-that-smell–red-crayon-on-walls–the-curtain-is-not-a-tissue–don’t-lie–eat-your-broccoli–he’s-working-late–toothpaste-in-hair–splinter-in-foot–is-that-a-pimple–missing-puzzle-piece–cranky-snotty-children–I-am-fat-and-ugly-and-a-terrible-mother-kind of day.
You’ve been there too?
Good. It’s a wonderful place to be.
Oh, I know it’s not a pleasant place, surrounded by mess, filth, sorrow, dark, used tissues, piles of legos, and difficulty of your own making.
It’s just good.
Self, let me introduce you to someone. This is Me. It’s time we met.
Here, eye-to-eye with my glaring insufficiency, I see things.
Yet, when they come to themselves in the land where they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to You… And when they return to You with all their heart and all their soul… Then hear from heaven, and maintain their cause and forgive Your people who have sinned against you. 2 Chronicles 6:37-38
I read this and it jogged my foggy memory of another passage where I’d seen it. It’s in the story of the prodigal son. You know him? Luke 15? The bold, beloved, selfish son who demanded his inheritance before his father even died? He ran off and drowned out his conscience with loud living, busyness, cell always beeping, gossip buzzing, commercialism clamoring, tantalizing idols constantly screaming for his attention… Until one morning, early, when he woke up and the power company shut off his electricity. With the last shreds of pride and self-preservation, he managed to land a job.
But his first paycheck went to “friends” demanding a paid-back loan. He watched them walk away laughing before he turned to heave a pail of slop into the swines’ trough. His pride came tumbling out onto the pigs’ greedy snouts with pieces of salad and remnants of leftover meals from a nearby restaurant. He’d once frequented that restaurant. His stomach rumbled. He looked at the rotting food. His stomach turned. A thick hunk of bread was sitting on the corner. The end was soggy, but the rest looked almost edible. He reached for it… And a pig snuffed it up just as his finger brushed the crust.
In that moment, finally, the young man came to himself.
He knew where there was bread. Good, fresh, abundant bread. It wasn’t at any restaurant. It was at home, in the kitchen, on the table. At home. Where he wasn’t. He felt the weight of his stupidity squarely on his shoulders. He didn’t even try to shrug the weight off. Not now. He knew where there was bread. And he’d have to bring his stupidity with him and lay it bare if he wanted that bread.
That breaking moment. The awakening moment. The sudden moment when the idols are proved helpless. The moment you are helpless, and you see yourself just as you are. And it ain’t pretty.
And God said, “Ah, good, about time you noticed. Now can we talk?”
He could have responded with the anger of a stern Father and an “I told you so.” But He didn’t. Not to a child who has come to himself.
Instead, He came running like a Dad who had been waiting for His son. He brought him to the kitchen table. And He gave him bread. And the bread never tasted so good to the one who’d always whined for cake before. But this time, fresh and hearty, warm and aromatic, it hit the empty spot. And filled it.
That is a wonderful place to be.
I didn’t compare myself to a prodigal at first. After all, I never left. But I looked around the messy house, and it did feel a bit like a pig sty. The fighting children, the unfinished chores and schoolwork, the pile of bills on the table, the long to-do list on the counter, concern for my husband, the mirror mocking my hips like a convex carnival trick, the worry, the fretting, the clutter in my head. I realized, for the bazillionth time, that I am inept. Completely.
But instead of browsing the internet for ideas on being “better” last week, I took a good look in the mirror. The real one. The Bible. It reflects more honestly than that cheap glass panel with fingerprint smudges. And what I saw wasn’t lovely. I was not impressed. But I got it.
I don’t need distraction. I don’t need make up to hide the flaws. I need a Savior.
Oh, wait, look, He’s on the next page.
When the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7
By grace I am heir of a kingdom. But my myself, I can’t even manage a pig pen properly. Usually I’m too proud to say so. But finally I admitted it, shamefaced. And the King looked at me, in a puddle of myself at His feet.
He reached down and lifted my chin. He breathed out life. He filled me up. Grace is so filling.
It was a wonderful place to be.