[For those whose stories feel too dark to share—take courage. Others need to hear about your Postcards from the Pigsty.]
In recent weeks, I’ve been contemplating the importance of speaking about the challenges and mistakes in our past. An article about parenting I read this morning (I’m not expecting—just learning!) further stressed the value of telling children about our greatest failures so they might benefit from our conclusions without having to self-sabotage themselves as we did.
But in Christian circles, we don’t like to dredge up the past. We are (often rightly) ashamed of what we’ve done and unwilling to perpetuate stories that shine an unflattering light on regrettable behaviors and unwelcome memories. I understand the reticence. But I also realize the value of digging into the dirt of the errors of our past, particularly in the presence of those who risk repeating them. We have a blueprint for that: the Bible itself is a crucial collection of cautionary tales—stories of the mistakes made by people who came before us, tales that point toward a God who loves us in spite of our propensity to harm ourselves, hurt others and offend his holiness. Parables of Prodigals and pigsties that illuminate the unimaginably immense love of a forgiving Father.
God’s love doesn’t have to be prefaced by human failures, but our refusal to speak of our own might cause others to needlessly make mistakes that could have been avoided.
I’ll be honest. There are days when I don’t want to revisit the “pigsties” of my youth. There are potentially life-altering conversations during which I resist the divine nudge to go there again—to speak of the sexual abuse, the paralyzing depression, the spiritual desolation, the relational blunders and the plain old stupidity of careless words and thoughtless actions. But my stories of failing and surviving are not wasted in God’s redemptive perspective. They are important tools I can use for Him to benefit others—singles, cancer survivors, victims of maltreatment and others who, like me, are missionaries and MKs. He has transformed my shameful experiences into a means to help and heal and illuminate.
Would you consider letting him to that for you too? I’m certainly not advocating broadcasting your regrets indiscriminately and thoughtlessly. But in the right context and for the right reasons, would you be willing to revisit past pain if it serves to help others? That’s my challenge to all of us: that we would find the courage and vision to let yesterday’s darkness be redeemed for God’s purposes.
I often think back to the Prodigal Son. I see again the vibrant portrait of God’s love and forgiveness painted in the mud of one boy’s rebellion and unfaith. And I ponder the story of the sister he might have had. If he had spoken of his filth and folly, might she have been spared from making his mistakes? Could she have more fully understood the enormity of their father’s forgiveness if her brother had revealed to her the depravity of his pigsty-days?
Here, briefly, is that sister’s story—told in the style of Kahlil Gibran’s parables:
There was once a young man who abandoned everything to follow selfish desires. He stole from his father and left the comfort of his home to lead a life of opulence. When he had squandered all his possessions, he found employment tending pigs. Their sty became his world. Their filth became his home.
After several years, emptiness and desperation drove him back to his father, who rushed out to meet him with shouts of joy and forgiveness. The Prodigal felt his father’s strong embrace and realized how much he’d needed his unflinching, limitless love. There was no place more comforting, more fulfilling and more soul-enriching than his father’s arms.
And so the man settled into the life that had been intended for him long before he chose to forsake it. He worked his father’s land and found fulfillment there. As he spent time with his father, he found his love for him increasing. He listened to his words and felt indescribable contentment and sureness. For the first time of his existence, he knew peace.
As the Prodigal’s joy increased, he was unable to contain it. Those around him began to wonder at his happiness. “Young man, why are you so joyful?”
He answered simply, “Because I love my father and my father loves me.”
His audience was not satisfied. “We also have fathers,” they said, “and our fathers love us. Why then does your joy surpass ours?”
The young man remembered the pigsty when these questions were asked. The stench of filth reached his senses even then. He shoved the memories back into the past and shook his head. “My father loves me,” he repeated, “and that is why I’m joyful.”
The others shook their heads in disappointment and left.
One evening, as the young man was out in the fields, his youngest sister approached.
“Why are you so joyful?” the little girl asked.
Again, the man replied, “Because my father loves me.”
“Our father loves me too,” said the girl. “All fathers love their children. Why is your joy so much greater than mine?”
The man thought for a moment. “Because I know that our father forgives more and forgets more and loves more and desires more for his children than any other father does.”
“How do you know that?” the little girl asked.
The sharp fetor of animals filled the young man’s mind again. He said no more. His sister left.
Several years later, when the young man had married and moved away from his father’s home, he stepped outside and saw a silhouette on the horizon. As the form drew nearer, the young man saw that her clothes were torn and worn, that her face was smeared with mud, that her shoulders were stooped in defeat. The stench of animal filth, carried on the cold morning air, reached the young man before the stranger did.
“Hello, brother,” said the stranger as she drew near.
The man barely recognized his sister, so scarred was she by years of soulless living. He took her into his arms and led her to a bench.
“What has happened to you?” he asked.
His sister spoke of leaving their father, of wandering, of living much as her older brother had during his own exile from their home.
“But why?” the Prodigal asked. “Why did you leave our father?”
Tears came to the young woman’s eyes. “Because I had offended him. Because I had hurt him. Because I had rejected him.”
The brother grasped his sister’s shoulders, tormented by emotions, and said, “But how many times have I told you that our father loves us more than any other father could? He would have forgiven you!”
She hung her head. “I wasn’t sure,” she whispered. “You never told me how you knew.
And the brother and sister sat on the bench under a rising sun as he recounted his memories of a flight from home, of a pigsty, and of a father’s measureless love and forgiveness.
“If only I had known,” the sister whispered. “If only you had told me all you knew…”
Please leave any comments you have in the space below. As always, click “Like” to show your support for this message and “Share” if you’d like to pass it on. To subscribe, send a note to THIS LINK and simply write “Subscribe” in the subject line. If you have trouble leaving a comment, send it to me at the previous link and I’ll post it on your behalf. Thanks!