The Prodigal’s Mother
Written by Major Jamie Spalding
One of the most poignant stories in Scripture is the parable of the Prodigal Son, found in Luke 15:11–31. In it we catch a glimpse of the mercy and grace of the heavenly Father who loves us, even when we are soaked in sin and wreaked from the choices we’ve made. We see a repentant son, a bitter brother and a compassionate, forgiving father. A thought has always plagued me about this parable. One character is glaringly absent from the story. Where is the Prodigal’s mother?
Obviously, this story was not an actual account, but rather an anecdote related to listeners about how heaven rejoices when the lost are found. Jesus had already illustrated the same point in the two previous stories also found in Luke 15—the lost sheep and the lost coin. If this were a real account, if these characters were flesh and blood and heart and soul, I wonder where the mother would be.
If you’ve ever lived through the heartbreak of a wayward child, maybe you’ve wondered along with me. Perhaps the mother would be out and about in the town, busy her daily duties, stopping at the marketplace, chatting with a neighbor, pretending nothing is wrong, acting as if she isn’t crushed by the humiliation of a child who showed this ultimate display of disrespect to his father. Maybe she would tell herself every morning that if she could keep the smile on her face and act as if her life was not in pieces, then no one would know; no one would stare; no one would talk about it and she could preserve her family’s reputation. Maybe, dear momma, you’ve been there too.
Perhaps people would already be talking about it. Maybe it would be all anyone could talk about, the scandal of this ungrateful child, the nerve of this selfish brat. Maybe they would be whispering about how he wasn’t parented well, or how his parents did, in fact, spare the rod and spoil the child. Meanwhile, all she would be thinking about were his sweet coos while she nursed him at night. How he held on to her fingers as he took his first steps. The tears running down his face as his sensitive heart was broken by a mean kid at school. His face searching for hers as he beamed with pride when he finally caught a big fish. She’d want to scream that they didn’t know the real him, that he had a good heart, that this year of struggle shouldn’t define his whole existence. She would want to defend him with every fiber of her being. Maybe, dear momma, you’ve been there too.
Perhaps his mother would be home, in bed, unable to face anyone, crippled with worry and broken under the weight of her despair. Maybe she would go over every moment of his life in her head, trying to figure out where she went wrong or what she should have done differently. She would question every moment of her motherhood. She would blame herself for not being loving enough or holy enough or giving enough … for just never being enough. Maybe, dear momma, you’ve been there too.
Perhaps his mother would not have been at home at all. Maybe, once she saw that her son wasn’t coming back, she took off to the far country right behind him. She would search high and low, finding herself in dangerous and dirty places, places where a decent woman wouldn’t be caught dead … all in search of her boy. Maybe, dear momma, you’ve been there too.
Or maybe the Prodigal’s mother would find herself at the temple or in her prayer closet, face to the floor before the Lord, weeping for her child and for all that she’s lost. She would be there every day, relentless, unyielding, never giving up the fight … until her baby was back home.
And when she heard the shouts of her husband, the burst of joy that his son was dead but is alive again, that he was lost but now is found, her heart would leap in her chest as she picked herself up off the floor and began readying the house for a feast because, at last, he came home. I pray, dear momma that you get there too.
If you have dealt with a lost or struggling child, with which scenario (or combination of scenarios) do you most identify? It’s often hard for us to talk about our struggles while we are still in the middle of them, waiting for God to work. Is there another woman in your life with whom you can share freely? Did a friend come to mind as you were reading this article? Share it on social media and commit to praying for each other. It helps to know you’re not alone.
Major Jamie Spalding
North & South Carolina