“And [the son] arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.…the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate…And they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:20-22-24).

There is only one A&W root beer left in our refrigerator. After over a decade of a 12 pack being kept cool, I won’t be buying more anytime soon. I don’t drink root beer; my son does. But Samuel has moved away to graduate school, has his own apartment, and is looking for long-term employment. His frequent and treasured visits to the Wolfeden will be less common. Samuel is 23 and a man. He has now left home to make his mark in the world. He is moving forward to answer God’s call on his vocation, as he presently understands it. As we all know, this is sometimes difficult to determine due our sinfulness and human limitations. But he is trying, and he is seeking. God knows that it took me nearly 50 years to figure this out and still I sometimes wonder if I have.

As unwelcomed as this is to a parent, this is the way of life. I, too, left home for undergraduate studies and then, later, 7 hours away to seminary. Children grow up and move on. They find their way; they find their place. They discover, we earnestly pray, exactly where God wants them to be, doing precisely what He wants them to do. This is not an exact science and I pray forgiveness for any barriers that I have unwittingly created in Samuel’s pursuit of a life full of loving and serving his Savior. Mercifully, I’m confident that our God is big enough to overcome my poor choices and lack of wisdom. Parenting, as I have been consistently reminded, is not an exact science either, and is subject to the frailties and foibles of those who are blessed to parent.

Samuel isn’t going to a far country to sew his wild oats and waste his life – he’s only going 3 hours away to continue his studies at a Church of God university. He will carry on with his studies in psychology and today is his first day of classes. Why psychology? Maybe it’s to figure himself out or to understand and help others. Probably both. Maybe it’s to undo the ill-effects of my parenting. No matter the reason, he feels this is what he must do to grow up and move forward as an independent, responsible adult and a contributor to our culture and Christ’s kingdom. If, in the end, Samuel is pursuing his greatest purpose – to glorify God and enjoy Him forever – then he really isn’t leaving home at all but, instead, finding His God-ordained dwelling place. With that in mind, I wish Samuel our Lord’s best, fruit for his labor, and the joy of Jesus. It’s the least I could do after all the delight he has brought to me.

Don’t think for a second that he is a prodigal. Nothing could be further from the truth. I chose this passage because of the father’s reaction to His son’s return, not as a commentary on why Samuel left. It’s because, when he returns to visit, I will react in a similar fashion. No, there won’t be a splendid robe or a special ring and shoes. But a cow will have been sacrificed and the grill will be prepped for the finest steak his father can cook. There will be a celebration – probably muted by biblical standards, but a joyous event nonetheless. But there will be that root beer – the one that has remained in the fridge awaiting Samuel’s homecoming. And there will be another 12 pack already purchased, stored, and cool, in the hopes that he lingers for awhile and comes back again soon.

Samuel Wolfe, Rebekah and I, like the father in Jesus’ parable, longingly look forward to once again watching you drink that A&W, savoring a specially prepared ribeye, chatting about things both important and not, and enjoying the gladness that comes from you blessing us with your presence. We are so very, very proud of you! Godspeed!

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