I want to share with you a story of a son. A son who was tired of following the rules. Going to school, learning new skills, helping his mother with her “quaint” permaculture farm. It was a beautiful farm—even he had to admit that—filled with hundreds of different species of fruits and vegetables, trees, pollinators, and livestock, which together all seemed to hum with life, supporting each other to produce an abundant harvest every year. But the day-to-day drudgery of tending the garden, learning best practices, and his many other chores had become too much.
So he stole his mother’s credit card and ran away to a big city. There he checked himself into an expensive hotel, ate fancy meals at expensive restaurants, played video games all day, and danced at clubs every night, all at his mom’s expense. Every night he expected a waiter or bartender to tell him his card didn’t work. But no one ever did. Years he lived like this, until one day, in a hungover stupor he saw a butterfly outside his hotel window. A spectacular Zebra Swallowtail—one he’d seen every summer growing up on his mom’s farm—and one he’d never expected to see in the city.
He realized that his mother’s farm—an oasis surrounded by a desert of consumer meaninglessness—brought him more joy just from its memory alone than drinking, dancing, or fighting monsters ever would.
So he checked out of his hotel room, taking nothing with him but the clothes on his back, and returned to his mother’s farm.
But the farm was not like he remembered. The deep woods to the west were now a housing development. The meadows to the east now housed a feed lot. His mother’s small home was dilapidated, paint peeling from the walls, shingles tattered, windows covered over in plastic. And what remained of the farm was mostly invasive species—inedible weeds of all sorts strangling the few remaining vegetable crops.
Then, the son saw his mother, frail and hunched over, pulling vine after vine from one of her garden plots.
“Oh mother, what has happened?”
Slowly rising to her feet, his mother explained, “I had to sell much of the farm to pay off the monthly credit card bills. And I am getting too weak and sick to take care of even this little land I have left.”
“What have I done,” the son wept, falling to his knees and hugging her tightly.
After a long time, the mother said, “Do not despair, son. For you are home now, and that is enough.”
Together, they would grow the garden again.
Questions to Consider:
- What does this story mean? Who is the mother? The son? Why does she keep paying the credit card bills? What do these bills represent? Why does she accept his return? Can the son, even through a new-found dedication, make things right?
- The son left everything behind but the clothes on his back. Why?
- Why, of all butterflies, the Zebra Swallowtail? What is its dominant coloring? What symbolism does this invoke?
- Why does the mother pause so long before welcoming home her son?
- What are the differences between this story of a lost son and the story of the Lost Son Jesus tells?