Notes From Just a Daughter

This article assumes a familiarity with the story of the prodigal son. If you are not familiar with this story, or would like to refresh your memory, you may read it from Luke 15:11-31.

My sense of identity has wreaked havoc on much of my life. For my first thirty years, I had an identity much like the older brother in the story of the "Prodigal Son."

"All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!" (Luke, NLT).

I was good at being good. I excelled in work and school, often receiving certificates, awards and promotions. I was valedictorian of my class in high school. In college, I received the Washington State Student Employee of the Year Award, and graduated summa cum laude. I always went to bed on time and ate lots of vegetables. I was honest, hard-working and kind. I married the first man I dated. We read the whole Bible together as well as several dating/marriage books within the first few years of our relationship. I volunteered in dozens of capacities at church and led a women's small group for ten years. I suppose I was a poster child for "good Christian daughter."

I don't recall being angry — as the older brother in the story — but I did feel like the rebellious-turned-religious people always had the better testimonies. They seemed to be alive, to experience God in a way that I didn't. I was jealous of their stories. For me, the fatted-calf was the vibrant life of the converted person. I wanted to be filled with the Holy Spirit, bountiful in His fruit, and though I begged God for this, I saw no changes.

The year I turned 30, two things happened. My daughters turned one and three years old, and our family decided to join another family in starting a house church. The combination of navigating the emotional minefield of parenting toddlers, while beginning a ministry that called on me to simply love the people in front of me, called my "goodness" into question. It quickly became apparent that I was short-tempered, controlling, emotionally fragile and judgmental. As I watched myself fail every day, I quickly took on the identity of the younger brother.

"Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son" (Luke, NLT).

I spent nearly six years with this as my constant narrative. I didn't use those words exactly, but every day I felt worthless and ugly-hearted. Whenever I took a moment to feel my inner world, I invariably cried. All I could see was failure, after failure, after failure. Though I was still the older brother, staying home and working hard, I didn't hear the voice of the Father, "You are always with Me, and all I have is yours" (Luke, NLT).

Instead, I rehearsed the speech of the younger brother. "I am no longer worthy."

This is the identity I gave myself — or Satan gave me. It is an identity rooted in lies from a foreign land where I am not a citizen. I felt bankrupt, lonely, and no longer good at being good.

There is no joy living in the mansion if, in my head, I am still reciting the speech of repentance. The younger son in this story was not literally dead or lost. He was breathing and he knew the way home. He was dead and lost because he didn’t know who he was. And while I lived in the Father's house but didn’t know who I was, I, too, was dead and lost.

It is excruciating to have the identity of the prodigal while living in the Father's house. I was dead, knowing I "should" be alive. I was lost, knowing I "should" be found. I felt like a zombie, walking dead in the land of the living. So, although I never left home, I needed to look my Father in the face, admit my belief that I was unworthy, and that I had squandered His inheritance, and hear His response.

"Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on her (gender changed, emphasis added). Get a ring for her finger and sandals for her feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this daughter of mine was dead and has now returned to life. She was lost, but now she is found" (Luke NLT).

My identity here in my Father's house is this: a daughter who is alive, found, celebrated and given authority. I do not slowly earn these things. They are mine yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Dead sons say, "Thanks for the nice room, dad. I know I don’t deserve it. I'm still really sorry I wasted your money and disappointed you. I'm gonna work hard to become better today." What a slap in the Father's face! When He completely ignored my "I'm not worthy" speech and started a riotous party, that was my clue that He’s not expecting recovery before relationship. If I'm still working hard and apologizing a lot, it's because I didn't hear what the Father said to me.

Maybe it's time to realize that between me and God, nothing is lost by my bad behavior. There is nothing to be "made up" to God. When I am with Him, my identity is always that of an unblemished daughter.

I think it's telling that we often call this, "The story of the prodigal son." When this boy was in a foreign land, yes, he was "prodigal," but when he comes home, he is son — son only. If you're living in the Father's house but you feel like a prodigal, you haven't come home. You're still in a land of lies, confusion and shame. I have been the older brother (self-righteous), the younger brother (self-loathing); now it's time to be just a daughter.