The Prodigal & The Perfectionist


How many of you out there know the parable of The Prodigal Son?

For those of you who don’t, here’s a quick summary. A father has two sons. One son (we’ll call him Bob) asks for his inheritance early. Bob then runs off with this gift and spends it like it’s going out of style. Before too long he’s broke and he decides – rather than be homeless and alone – to come home and beg for his father’s forgiveness. Upon returning, Bob’s father shows none of the anger or resentment that Bob anticipated but instead celebrates him with a massive party. During the party, the father’s other son (let’s call him George) starts to pout. When George’s father asks him why, George explains that he’s been a responsible, faithful son his whole life. He’s confused and hurt that his father has never even offered to throw him a party.

Let’s pause there for a second.

I have a really hard question to ask you: In your personal struggle moments, which one of the brothers do you identify with more?

  • I’m Bob: I catch myself longing to run away and just be free from all the rules, restrictions, consequences and “adulting” that I feel are being imposed on me by the “George’s” of the world. Sometimes these feelings of frustration and longing lead me to make rash or dangerous decisions that I end up regretting.
  • I’m George: I try to do the right thing most of the time even when most people don’t seem to notice. But, if I’m being really honest, I get annoyed when the “Bob’s” of the world get celebrated for the kinds of choices/behaviors that I do on a daily basis and am never even acknowledged for.

You don’t have to share your answer with me. (I’m too embarrassed to share mine.) But let’s just go ahead and assume that each of us have been a Bob or a George at least once in our lives. Let’s also go ahead and assume that we’d rather not be either. What’s the fix?

For that, let’s go back to the parable . . .

In response to George’s confusion and hurt, the father says: “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:31-32 NIV)

The father celebrated both.

  • He didn’t yell at Bob for his impulsive, selfish, dangerous choices. Instead, he celebrated Bob’s return home.
  • He didn’t yell at George for his pity party or self-righteousness. Instead, he reminded George that no matter how good he is or what riches he is given, the whole point is seeking and celebrating the lost being found.

It’s not about chasing my definition of freedom. It’s not about getting acknowledged for my attempt at a perfect track record. Jesus is firmly and lovingly reminding us all what the true purpose of this life is: Every Bob and every George is lost without Jesus. And, even more importantly, every Bob and every George can be found because of Jesus. This realization is so powerful that it leads me to do two things: 1) turn my running into seeking or pouting into celebrating and 2) talk about my reason for seeking and celebrating so that others can join the party, too.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, you came because I’m lost without you. Give me a spirit of true celebration over the gift of being found. Protect me from feelings of selfish ambition or jealousy. Instead, grow in me a deeper desire to help others who are lost to be found. Take over my whole heart. Amen.

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