When I was young, I wasn’t much of a reader. Now I read all the time. Perhaps I even read a little too much now, but when I was a kid I didn’t have much use for books, didn’t see any real point to reading.
Part of that not reading was due to my suspicion that the really good books would come later, when I was older, abler, whatever it was that I needed to be to read those big books with small print and no pictures. Those, I thought, were what reading really was.
It’s a familiar story, a kid wanting to be a grown up, not content to be just a kid.
I think part of what makes that story so familiar is that so many of us struggle with the patience it takes to live right now without thought to the future or without the expectation that the future holds something better. Or, maybe that’s just me.
The other day in church the sermon was about the Prodigal Son. Actually, it was about several parables, but, as always, it was the Prodigal Son who stood out to me. He is a little bit me, as I am a little bit him, as we all are a little bit prodigal.
When I think of the parable of the Prodigal Son, I’m usually moved by the grace that his father shows; that’s what I focus on most. But, this time I was thinking about something different. I was thinking about patience. As one who has no patience, I think about patience a lot, as one who has lost something valuable remains fixated on that object until it is found. Fixated on the how and why and where that object has gone.
However, I’ve never had patience. My patience is not lost. It is simply nonexistent. And yet, I know it should be there. And so I think about it.
Patience stood out to me precisely because of the Prodigal Son’s lack of patience. He wanted his inheritance. Now. Not later. The son had plans for now, and those plans could not wait for later.
His request for the inheritance obviously goes against tradition. However, inheritance, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. It is what the son would have been entitled to and his father’s heir. In that way, the inheritance itself is a financial benefit for the son and is also more or less morally neutral. It did not cause the moral decay of the Prodigal Son any more than it could edify him.
To me, the problem is not the inheritance. It’s the timing of the inheritance. The Prodigal Son received his inheritance before he was ready for it. Though money alone could not corrupt him, it could give him the means to pursue his baser desires, to move away from the safety of his family to a place where he would be free to do as he chose. He was not ready for such freedom because his heart and soul and mind were focused on his own whims and needs, not on those things that would provide a firm foundation for a life.
In thinking of the story in this way, I’m reminded all the more of the importance of the virtue of patience. There are so many times when I wish for something—perhaps an actual thing or more likely for something to happen in my life. I wonder why those things don’t come immediately, why there has to be waiting. So, now I’m trying (with gritted teeth) to remember that waiting has a purpose. Sometimes God makes us wait, knowing that we don’t yet have the capacity or strength to handle what He has for us, knowing that receiving all of our gifts at once—before our own hearts and souls and minds are focused on what is good and right and true—will lead to a squandering of fortune.
And so, I wait to read the story He has written for me, the one with the words I don't yet understand.