Read Heathersleigh Homecoming Online
Authors: Michael Phillips
Tags: #FIC042030, #FIC042000, #FIC026000
Â© 1999 by Michael R. Phillips
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Ebook edition created 2015
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any meansâfor example, electronic, photocopy, recordingâwithout the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Unless otherwise identified, Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Cover illustration Â© Erin Dertner / Exclusively represented by Applejack Licensing
To the sisters of
The Mother of Good Counsel Home
St. Louis, Missouri
and to the sisters of
11. Messrs. Crumholtz, Sutclyff, Stonehaugh, & Crumholtz
14. Reflections on Their Guest
30. Whence Originates GoodnessÂ .Â .Â . and Why?
46. Christmas Dinner With Meat for Discussion
54. Against Entreaties and Persuasions
62. Intelligence in the Alliance
66. Sharing a Corner of God's Heart
78. A Visitor to Heathersleigh
79. Jocelyn and Stirling Blakeley
86. Change of Plans Aboard the
89. Unexpected Visitors to English Shores
101. Autumn Rains and Memories
Part V: Heathersleigh Homecoming
107. Heartache at Heathersleigh
108. Unless a Seed Fall to the GroundÂ .Â .Â .
115. Healing and Looking Forward
118. Mysteries Solved and Puzzles Remaining
120. What Do You Want Me to Do?
After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.Â .Â .Â . When he came to his senses, he saidÂ .Â .Â . “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.” So he got up and went to his father.
The Universal Parable
The remarkable thing about the Bible is that its stories are timeless and universal, and also very, very intimate. From Genesis onward, the insightful reader sees both the great, sweeping, majestic human condition, and his
, mirrored in the men and women of the scriptural account.
In compiling the Holy Book, though using fallible men to do so, the Holy Spirit has woven a miraculously
tapestry of human life. Only the most unseeing individual can progress far in the Bible without eventually standing back to gaze with wonder at that tapestry, realizing that the emerging portrait being woven into the fabricÂ .Â .Â . alongside the face of the LordÂ .Â .Â . is his or her own countenance and spiritual character. Nowhere do we find this personal tapestry more clearly than in the Gospels.
The Gospels paint a picture of
beside that of the Man whose life story they tell.
Though on the surface the Gospels appear to be a biographical account of Jesus Christ, at a more profound level they are intended to prompt a far deeper response than a typical biography. The Gospels tell two stories. They illuminate both the character of Jesus
that of his listener.
At every point this dual story is active. Response to Jesus is everythingâwhether it be the response of James and John, Peter and Andrew, the crowd, the rich young ruler, the Pharisees, children, blind men, prostitutes, tax collectors, kings, prophets, wise men, or shepherds.
Jesus continually looks into the eyes of his listener and says, “This story, this teaching, this principle, this parable, this truth is about
as much as it is about me. What will you do? You must in some way acknowledge what I say, who I am, and my Father's claim upon you. In shortÂ .Â .Â . you must follow me or turn your back and walk away. Neutrality is not possible. You
I intentionally use the word “listener” in the singular. Jesus always gazes into one set of eyes at a time. Jesus spoke to crowds, to groups of Pharisees, to the twelve, to the seventy. But he always addressed each
as if he or she were the only one present. That is why I say the scriptural account is a tapestry of the Lord's face and
Â .Â .Â . as if we are the only persons in the universe. It is the story of
personal responseâas I become that
âto the Lord's teachings, to his challenges, and to his claim upon me.
As I read of him walking beside the Sea of Galilee and approaching the sons of Zebedee, it is not primarily to them he speaks at that moment. The words “Follow me,” in that timeless and universally intimate eternal now, are intended for only
. James and John have already made their decision. Now it is my turn. Will I leave
nets and follow him? That is the eternally significant question.
No abstractions clutter the Gospels. The four books penned by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are, of course, important literary and historical documentsâprobably the most significant historical documents ever written. But they are not
historical. Their first purpose is not to record history but to elicit response. At the core they are
I repeatâresponse is everything. Jesus lived, Jesus taught, Jesus diedÂ .Â .Â . to be
to. If I read the words “Follow me” as spoken only to James and John or Peter and Andrew or the rich young ruler, as detached historical encounters having little immediate bearing upon me, the life of Jesus itself loses its power in my life altogether. It is either my story, my responseÂ .Â .Â . or it is nothing.
Where do I take
place in the gospel drama?
Am I one of the seventy? Do I stand watching and listening among the crowd? Am I a silent and unresponsive observer of the miracles who walks away thinking to myself, “HmmÂ .Â .Â . interesting,” but who never appropriates that miracle of new life for myself? Am I an angry Pharisee? Am I a Thomas full of questions, a Nicodemus who comes by night, a Martha who fusses, or perhaps the rich young ruler, who, when confronted eye to eye with the challenge of following, sadly turns and walks away?
Where do you find
in the gospel drama?
Within the Gospels this principle of personal response is no more vivid than in how we relate to the parables. Do we see our own faces in those seemingly simple stories? If not, we have missed their
life-changing import. We have not beheld the gospel tapestry in its full yet very subtle and weakness-exposing glory. Its colors and textures shift and change in the light, and must be turned just so for the images being fashioned by the divine hand to be seen for what they are. It is a tapestry-portrait of intricate colors and blends, whose figures and representations often do not reveal themselves at first glance. As Jesus tells each and every parable, he holds up a mirror in which I am intended to see my
face. That is the subtlety of the tapestry-in-progress.
We are all well familiar with the parable we call “the prodigal son,” found in Luke 15:11â31. I call it the universal parable. I am convinced that it represents a microscopic view of the entire human drama on earth. We have a good, prosperous, and benevolent Father, from whose loving presence we have strayed. It happened in the garden with Adam and Eve. It happens with every man and woman who has ever lived. We leave our Father's home. We leave the garden life he intended for us, wandering from his embrace, abandoning our trust in his goodness, disobeying his commands, squandering our inheritance as his sons and daughters. Call it
âwhich it is. Call it
âwhich it is. Call it
âwhich it is. Or say simply that we have turned away from the loving care of our Creator-Father. All these descriptions of our condition are appropriate and true. We are a prodigal humanity.
In actual human lives such as yours or mine, not every individual is a wicked and visibly rebellious person. There are axe murderers and prostitutes and good churchmen and -women. Yet whatever the individual characteristics of the far countries to which we each go, we are all prodigals together. Our universal straying, therefore, takes many formsâfrom outright rebellion and disobedience against God, to casual independence and unintentional drift. We want our inheritance, which is life, but we want it apart from him. We do not want to live out that life in our Father's house. We are just like the prodigal son. The underlying prodigal-mistake to which all succumb is a universal one: We think it is possible to create a satisfying life apart from the God who created us, or if we do include him in our calculations we do so on our own terms, keeping his expectations and demands at a minimum. In the end this lethal assumption is always revealed for the fallacy it is. All must eventually do what the prodigal didâarise and return to our Father.
We must go home.
And what do we find when we return? That our Father's goodness and love and grace and forgiveness are boundless in open-armed embrace. He has been waiting for us all along! Indeed, he has been watching for usâbelieving we would return. He is waiting to run out and greet us with rejoicing even before we are all the way back. That is the kind of Father we have. Nowhere do we see God himself so succinctly and wonderfully characterized as in the father of the prodigal in Luke fifteen.
The prodigal parable is universal for another reason. Most men and women, especially in today's world, find themselves living out one or another aspect of this story within their own family relationships. When I say, as I did earlier, that we all find ourselves in the Gospels, I think we also all find ourselves within this one parableâas a father, a mother, an elder brother, as one of the servants, possibly as a neighbor or cousin or uncle or aunt, as one of the prodigal's friends in the far country to which he sojourned and where he gradually squandered his inheritanceÂ .Â .Â . or as the prodigal himself.
Do you know anyone at this moment who is estranged from mother or father? Then you are living out, right now, a role within this parable. And it may be that you will be called upon to take an active part in the unfolding drama before it reaches its conclusion.
Never has the story been so heartbreakingly applicable within Christian families as it seems to be during these times in which we live. The assault upon the institution of the family has rarely been so unrelenting and severe. That assault is coming precisely at the point where young people are the most vulnerableâin the transitional stage between childhood and adulthood. They are encouraged and goaded by every element of society to become antagonistic toward, lose their trust in, and often break off their relationship with their parents completely. Scarcely does a family exist without scars from the battle.
To understand the complexities of that battle, and to be encouraged and energized to give God thanks in the midst of it, I think we profit enormously by reading afresh the parable of the prodigal, with the gospel mirror held up to our own souls. In some cases this prompts the conviction of the son to arise and return. In others it allows the parental heartbreak to accomplish its divine purpose. To others it gives great hope.
Often the complexities and prayerful struggles within the parable are not apprehended at first glance. It takes time, and often personal experience, to delve beneath the surface to gain some of the deeper insights and ask some of the more difficult questions prompted by the story. What, for example, was the role of the prodigal's mother during the time her son was away? How did her mother-heart bear up under the season of waiting? And how long was the prodigal awayâa yearÂ .Â .Â . ten years? Was there contact with him during that time? Did he write home and ask for more money once his inheritance ran out? Did his mother ever send him a care package? Was there communication between father and son prior to that tearful meeting on the road?
I find these questions not only fascinating, but also of huge practical consequence for those suffering through painful and fragmented relationships. In attempting to apply the truths of Luke fifteen, prodigalized families face a wide range of questions not specifically addressed in the biblical account. What ought to be a father's or mother's response if the homecoming is not accompanied by true repentance? What does a parent do if the visit is not for the purpose of reconciliation at all but is self motivated and ends with the question, “Dad, I need some money.” What if the angry prodigal comes home simply because there is no place else to go?
When does one kill the fatted calf and rejoice at the homecoming? What might be the adverse effect of celebrating prematurely? What is the nature of the inheritance? Is it always financial? Are there other “inheritances” which today's prodigals squander?
What about “prodigals” who never actually leave home, whose rebellion is lived out right under the parental roof? How do parents in such circumstances carry themselves? What about those whose rebellion against parental authority is obscured by an immature, self-righteous form of seeming spirituality which looks down on their parents rather than holding them in honor and esteem? Many prodigals go through life and never see their own face in the mirror when they read Luke fifteen, and thus never recognize themselves as prodigals at all.
What about interfering relatives, grandparents, siblings, and friends who justify the actions of the prodigal and subtly blame the parents for family division, preventing the “husks of the swine” to accomplish their chastening and redeeming work? What about those
who hide behind the curtain of neutrality, not wanting to “take sides” in a family dispute? These are they who never recognize that when Jesus told the parable there was a true right and a true wrong, and that while
was called for from the parental heart, it was the prodigal from whom
What about those “Job's counselors” who sow seeds of dissatisfaction, discontent, and brooding accusation, those who call themselves the prodigal's friends, but who are in fact purveyors of the modern psychology of guilt-free nonaccountability? They want to be accepting, noncritical. These are they who dismiss any need on the prodigal's part to face with tearful remorse what is genuine wrongdoing and sin. These so-called friends can be the most damaging of all, excusing rather than confronting, shifting blame, justifying, speaking subtle and character-damaging lies into the prodigal's receptive ear: “They don't understandÂ .Â .Â . it was right for you to do what you didÂ .Â .Â . you have to shed your youth and be who you areÂ .Â .Â . it is right and normal to stand up for your individuality and independenceÂ .Â .Â . you have to be yourself, not what they expect you to beÂ .Â .Â . they were controlling and you were right to break free.Â .Â .Â .” Such fleshly evasions prevent rather than exhort toward wholeness.
Homecoming is impossible as long as the Self rules, as it surely does in these blame-shifting and self-justifying excuses which are in the very societal air we breathe. And as long as homecoming is delayed, for just that long is mature character likewise prevented.
At root I find intriguing the simple question
? Why did the one son go and the one stay home? Why do young people raised in the same environment respond to their circumstances so differently? Why do young people raised in loving and caring environments find it necessary to rebel against them?
These and a host of other extremely difficult questions are faced every day by the families of prodigalsâquestions that test the limits of their faith and endurance. In this age when personal accountability is such an odious concept in the world's eyes, and when intolerance, anger, and blame toward parents are the
things young people are encouraged to face and repent ofâeven by Christian peers, pastors, youth leaders, mentors, and friendsâit is becoming sadly more and more rare that full reconciliation occurs in most families. All too few
Christian teachers, pastors, and counselors are calling upon young people to
for their prodigal hearts.