Trek 2008 - A Prodigal or A Sheep?
A Prodigal or a Sheep?
By Cheryle M. Touchton
The Pocket Full of Quarters Lady
When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. Matt 12:43-45 NIV
Can you tell the difference between a prodigal and a sheep? Don’t be too quick with your answer. Some think they or their loved one is a prodigal when they are really a sheep.
A lost prodigal is rebellious. He knows the truth and thumbs his nose at it. He chooses to walk his own way and believes he is smarter than most. Warnings do him no good because he refuses to listen. He is arrogant, selfish, and full of pride – until his actions bring him down. For the prodigal – the father waits for his return.
A lost sheep innocently nibbles the same grass as everyone else, gets farther and farther from the master, and suddenly looks around, astonished that he is lost. Yes – he made mistakes but others had made those same mistakes and found their way home. A sheep tries his best to get home but ends up more lost. The father always goes looking for the poor lost sheep.
The thing the prodigal and the sheep have in common is that they often exhibit the same behavior and it is easy to confuse the two. If a sheep thinks he is a prodigal, he blames himself, thinks he is worthless, and feels too hopeless to follow the shepherd home.
Such is the case with most addicts. Addicts, recovering addicts, and families of each fill our country. Often the word “prodigal” is used in association with the addict but I’ve come to believe that most addicts are more sheep than prodigal. Addicts do not know they are an addict until they are in so deep that they do not know how to get out. They start out like any lost sheep. They nibble what people around them are nibbling. What they nibble on reaches out and grabs them, becoming a stronghold in their life.
Prodigals nibble on things like alcohol, drugs, food, sex, or gambling, take themselves to the brink of disaster, but they can wake up, come to their senses, repent, and return home.
The poor sheep nibble on the same things and find themselves hopelessly lost in a sea of addiction that so clouds their vision that there is no path home. People may call them prodigals and assume they are choosing their path but ask any recovering addict if they had any choice once the addiction consumed them.
The hope for the prodigal is to decide to go home. The only hope for the sheep is for the shepherd to retrieve them and for the sheep to follow the shepherd home. There is no limit to how many times the shepherd will go looking and no limit to how long the father will wait for the prodigal to return to his senses.
I met the smiling, friendly, blond haired Ryan (see pictures – Montana – Billings KOA 08) at the nation’s very first KOA – in Billings, Montana. I’ve been there several times and like to camp right on the Yellowstone River. They have what they call their Bar-B-Q pit that serves breakfast and supper. Ryan was the cook for my evening rib eye steak.
“Skip the bread and potato salad,” I said.
“Don’t you like it?” he asked.
“I like it too much,” I joked. “I have to leave it completely alone.”
I told Ryan a little about me. Ryan gasped and said, “You tell people about the Lord.”
“You’re not only a Christian, you have a personal relationship with Christ,” I said.
“I do,” Ryan nodded. “I have to. I need it.”
Ryan was on a jail work release program for an alcohol related crime. He was married but not living with his wife because he had to return to a facility every night after work. He also had a six-year-old son by another woman.
“I’ve made so many mistakes,” Ryan said. “I’m a true prodigal.”
“That’s interesting,” I said. “I’m writing about Luke 15 and people being lost. The Prodigal Son is one of the stories. I’d like to write about you. If you are a Christian, Jesus sees you as perfect. He doesn’t even remember your past.”
“I know,” Ryan said. “I’m the one who can’t forget it. My mother says God has big plans for me. I hope she is right but I seem to keep messing up.”
“If you have a problem Ryan,” I said, “There may be things other people can do that you can never do again. The Bible says that when you sweep the house free of one demon, you have to fill it up with something else or seven more will come in its place and you will be worse off than before.”
“I know,” he said. “I’m an alcoholic. I can’t ever drink again. I also had a problem with some drugs.”
“How long have you been sober?” I asked.
“265 days – this time,” he replied.
“You’ve done this before?” I asked.
“Yes, I was already a Christian before I went to jail. All it took was me drinking again and I was right back where I started. I worked here before I went to jail and they let me have another chance.”
“They’ve offered you grace,” I said.
The young man sitting next to him said, “He’s a really good person.”
“Are you a Christian?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “I go to church with Ryan.” Coincidentally, it was the same church I’d visited the last time I was in Billings.
“I’m sure Ryan is a good person. Most addicts are at their core. They just get lost,” I said.
“Are you in AA?” I asked Ryan.
“I am. I work the steps and have a sponsor. I go to church and read my Bible. I’m really trying,” he said.
“What step are you on?” I asked.
“The third,” he said.
The third step of AA is: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
I shared with Ryan some of my story about recovery from the sin of gluttony. “I was bedridden in my 20’s. My mother was raising my children. God offered me grace and I grabbed it. God removed the desire to overeat. That was why I told you to leave off the bread and the potato salad. Now, because of grace, I get to travel the country, sharing my faith. I was wasting a life that God had big plans for.”
“Ryan,” I continued. “Step 3 is only a decision. It is important and if you don’t take it, you will drink again but it is only a decision. You have to blow through Step 3 quickly and work the rest of the steps. You won’t feel the grace Jesus offers until you confess your sins, ask God to remove them, and make amends. In AA, that happens in Steps 4-9. If you haven’t taken those steps, it is no wonder you still feel guilty and that you drank again. This is your life we are talking about. I agree with your mother – God does have big plans for you but you have to take the next steps.”
I went on back to my camper wondering if I had minded Ryan’s business. After all, I’m not in AA and wasn’t Ryan’s sponsor. I relaxed. I had definitely felt the power of God as I talked, felt urgent on Ryan’s behalf, and did my best to get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit work through me.
About an hour later, Ryan knocked on my camper door. He brought the young sister of his Christian friend so I would not feel uncomfortable about a man knocking on my door. Surprised, I opened the door. For once, Belle didn’t even bark.
Ryan had tears in his eyes. “I wanted to thank you,” he said. “I was at a very low spot in my life and I needed to hear what you said. You’ve really helped me.”
Now I was the one with tears. “May I hug you?” I asked.
He nodded and I stepped out of the camper and hugged him. His young friend stood there frozen, watching the emotional drama.
“Can I pray for you?” I asked.
He agreed. I turned to the young girl and asked, “Are you a Christian.”
“Yes,” she whispered.
“Join us and make circle,” I said. Timidly, she took our hands.
I prayed for Ryan – for him to be able to forgive himself and go on with life. I prayed for him to have knowledge of God’s will for him and the power to carry it out. I asked God to give him the courage to face what he had done and to be able to accept the grace of Jesus. I prayed for Ryan’s wife, for his son, and for him to be able to make the appropriate amends to the mother of his son. Ryan tensed when I prayed for the mother of his son and I wondered if guilt over that relationship was a big part of what was eating the sweet baaaing sheep named Ryan.
Had Ryan been about to nibble off to disaster again? Did the Shepherd do a preemptive strike by sending me to that campground and to that Bar-B-Q pit at that moment in time? What I do know is that the power of the Holy Spirit was present in that conversation and that He clearly demonstrated unfailing grace for one of His precious sheep.
Cheryle M. Touchton is the Director of Pocket Full of Change Ministries. For more information or to schedule a speaker for an event, go to www.pocketfullofchange.org or call Gail Golden at 904 316-5462.
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