When our Sunday night YF starts up again at the end of August, we’re going to go through a series looking at some of the stories Jesus told. The problem is, there are such well known stories. Everyone knows them. They know what happens in them. They know how they end.
So I’m trying to reinterpret them. Make them fresh.
The first one is probably the most famous of all. The Prodigal Son. How do you make that story fresh to people who will have heard it many times before? I’ve taken my first stab at it and the results are below. I’m not sure whether it’s enough but it’s a start. I have a couple of weeks to mull it over. Please let me know your thoughts.
Tom sits staring at the text on his phone. Thinking whether to send it or not.
“Dad, I’m sorry. Can I come home?”
He deletes the message and puts the phone back in his pocket. He leans back against the cold hard cement of the building behind him. The sounds of traffic echoes around his ears. A passer-by throws a twenty pence piece into his cup. He’s been living on the street for three weeks now.
Hard to imagine that just four months ago he had everything. Tom lived in a two story penthouse with his dad and sister. He had everything he ever wanted. Clothes, gadgets, good schooling.
But you know what it’s like when you’re a teenager. You want independence. You don’t want your parents supporting you all the time.
So he left home. Well, more than that.
He got into a fight with his dad one night. Told him, he wanted him dead. That he was moving out and he’d never see him again. Told him that he didn’t understand him. He needed to be on his own. Things escalated. Minutes later, Tom was standing over the bloodied and beaten body of his dad. He grabbed some money from the safe his dad had behind a painting in the dining room, and took off.
His dad was inconsolable. Close friends and family told him to forget Tom. That he was a nobody. He’s better off out of his life. His dad disagreed.
Over the next few weeks, Tom’s sister, Tracy looked after her dad. She nursed him back to health. She did everything for him. Anything to make him happy. That’s just what she was like. She’d always been like that. Trying to get her father’s approval through what she did. What she didn’t realise is that she always had his approval. She didn’t need to do anything to get it.
For Tom, the next couple of months were great. He rented a small flat, went out all night and slept all day. He experienced everything he had ever dreamed of. He had it all. Every desire, he filled.
But soon the money ran out. And the friends that he had recently acquired left also. He didn’t have the money to pay for the flat so he was thrown out on to the streets. He had nobody. Just a sleeping bag and his phone.
He thinks back to what it was like a few months ago. He wants to go home.
He takes his phone out again and tries to dial home. But he can’t. He doesn’t deserve that life.
A voice calls out to him.
“Put the phone away”.
He looks up. The tall frame of his dad stands over him. He stares. Not knowing what to do. His dad reaches out a hand.
“It’s time to come home”.
You see, once his dad was able to walk again, he set about looking for his son. He spoke with bar and club owners, shop managers, any contact he had. And they led him to his son. His sister was outraged. Why does he need him? He threw it all away. He doesn’t deserve his father’s attention. She does. She does everything for him.
“But you’ve already got my love Tracy. You don’t need to do all of this. My son needs my love, just as much as you”.
Tracy doesn’t understand. Tom doesn’t understand either.
But he’s glad to be home.
There are moments when I’m reminded of my insecurities and weaknesses. A few weeks ago I had one of those moments.
During the Easter holidays, a number of the young people from the church went to an SU retreat in Austria for a week. All of them came back ‘high’ from the experience. I remember the intense experience of weekend aways and week long retreats when I was a teenager. Being in a christian environment, surrounded by christians with no ‘worldly distractions’ is always going to have positive moments. It’s easy to be a christian when you’re away from your ordinary life, surrounded by other christian peers.
I heard the similar views of , “why can’t our YF be more intense”, “oh the speakers were incredible, not like we have here” etc etc.
But then one of the leaders of the trip away invited all of the young people from the trip to a ‘sort of’ reunion at a youth event in Edinburgh. Nothing wrong with that.
But it’s what he said that made me insecure and angry.
He said that he didn’t want the young people getting complacement in their faith and so wanted to keep them going to other invites to keep that flame lit.
The voice in my head responded with something like “and what do you think I’m trying to do?” “is my work meaningless?”
That was my gut reaction. the voice in my head that craves attention and worth.
“I’m the one working with these young people every week, not you”.
The rants continued in my head. I came home afterwards with a mixture of thoughts in my head. Retreats are good for young people but we have to help them realize that those ‘mountain top’ experiences aren’t everyday occurences. They can’t live their christian life going waiting for the next ‘high’. i remember coming home from trips to soul survivor and being angry with my church. “how can they be so complacement? Where’s their passion? I felt God there but not here”.
Now that I’m a youth worker I see how hard those things are to hear.
But thank God for grace. Thank god that i am not defined by my work. And I pray God would continually break me down every time I forget that.
But that’s not to say that those thoughts should be ignored. We need to find ways to disciple the young people we work with through those experiences. We need to help them practice the presence of God in their daily lives and realize that that God can be found in the small insignificant moments and no just the intense worship experiences. To help them realize how to be a disciple when you don’t feel God’s presence; when things are hard and your friends don’t take about your faith.
I thank God for those events, but I need His grace and vision to help bring the young people back into ‘normal life’.