Oh, the prodigal son. This one always hits so close to home. I have spent years as each of the sons. For most of my life, I identified with the older brother; angry and indignant at the undeserved affection and unwarranted reception that the prodigal receives upon coming home. I toiled diligently and abstained from many pleasures in order to stay “righteous” and do the good works. And for a time, I centered my heart on God.

But in my earnestness and eventual self-righteousness, I sought God’s approval on my deeds and my lifestyle. I felt like his blessings were rewards for my behavior – not grace upon grace. I fell into the ugly trap of deserving. I deserved what I had. My hard work deserved recompense. I labored to swing the scales of justice in my favor. How could those who had done nothing receive the same merit as I did?

But resentment reveals itself just as bitter and virulent as envy and hate and unrepentance. It kept me from seeing the magnitude of my own sin and the overwhelming grace of the cross that covers it.

Unfortunately, I also spent several years as the prodigal son. I got to the point where I was tired of waiting for the good things I thought I deserved. I wanted that feast in my honor. I wanted what I thought was good and best along my own timeframe. So, I demanded my inheritance and, literally, took off across the country in pursuit of my desires. I squandered five years of my life in reckless living. And squandered is the perfect word for it. I have nothing to show for those years. Nothing, but sour memories; no investments of my time that reached beyond myself. I spent five years completely self-absorbed in a mirrored bubble of myself.

Somehow, I thought my selfish choices wouldn’t affect anyone else. I imagined that I would just kind of disappear from my family – I even wrote such foolishness in my journal at the beginning of that time. I couldn’t imagine the gaping wounds I inflicted on my sisters, mother, father, nieces, nephews, and old friends. I didn’t expect them to see, or feel them trying to heal from my arrogant, abrupt departure and stubborn unrepentant.

Every blessing, every sunrise, every feast, every celebration, every joy – they were not mine because I had earned them. They belonged to the Father and he has always longed for me to share with him in them.

I experienced my own famine for a long, desperate time before God opened my eyes again. I had starved myself of love and real human connection. My heart waned dry and empty. The tears wouldn’t stop flowing, and I hurt without really even understanding why or where. My daily circumstances left me feeling listless and hopeless. I looked outside myself and knew that my situation was not ultimate, nor ideal. Nothing about it brought me peace or hope – only a wishing for something better and more fulfilling than the nothingness that consumed me.

But even then, I could not change my circumstances. I could not will them away or strive myself out of it. I fell and kept falling and falling until I landed back into God’s arms. While still a long way off, I heard him calling out to me and joyfully summoning me back. When I couldn’t make it through a church service without breaking down into tears, I felt him pulling me and starting the celebration at my return – even though it was all his doing.

And as the prodigal returning home, I began to realize what I never could in my stilted stubbornness as the elder brother: all that is His, he has already given freely to us. All that is His, was mine, is mine. It culminated on the cross and has never stopped. Every blessing, every sunrise, every feast, every celebration, every joy – they were not mine because I had earned them. They belonged to the Father and he has always longed for me to share with him in them.

He eagerly entreats us to accept his lavish gifts and what more can I ever dream of than life eternal with Him? What is true of the prodigal son rings true for us in Christ: “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:32) From death to life. From lost to found.

I began to see that we are all prodigals coming home.

Amber Sperlich attends the Oviedo campus where she sings in the worship band, and her story was featured in The Church Issue (PDF) of Grace Magazine. She writes to process her personal thoughts and meditations on the Grace messages and the text preached each week, and we thought we’d share some of them with you.