Prodigal: “a person who spends money in a recklessly extravagant way”.
I’ve never had enough money in my eighteen years of life to spend it in a “recklessly extravagant way” but I have done so with my time, which is an even greater gift from God. I wasted time with the wrong people. I wasted time living out of purpose. I wasted time complaining and spent little time expressing gratitude. I wasted time chasing the things of this world rather than Him.
For most of my teen years, I have spent my time chasing specifically, ivy-league acceptance.
Since middle school, I knew I wanted to go to any ivy league school. I visited Harvard in ninth grade, bought a banner, and hung out over my study desk as soon as I got home. Nearly every decision I made in high school was based around this dream.
Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing innately wrong with this striving. There is nothing wrong with wanting more and working hard for it. For that matter there is nothing wrong with money, sex, and many of the other things Christians often label as bad. The problem was that my ivy-league goal had my heart.
Even though I was in church every Sunday, school had my heart.
God was second in my life. Hours upon hours writing papers, interviewing, applying to schools, and rarely did I take time to pray or read my bible or enjoy all of the gifts God had given me in those years. Everything revolved around school.
When I was accepted to Princeton University, I thought “this is it! I’ve made it!” but that acceptance left me emptier than I had ever felt in my life. I felt lost. I felt like I had no direction.
All of the perfection that I thought went along with being accepted into any ivy league school was false. I was still the same person I was before the acceptance– with the same issues and insecurities. My life did not get magically better.
This past year I received the privilege to take a gap year in Senegal, Africa. This experience completely changed the trajectory of my life. It was here, in a muslim majority country, that I began to hear the voice of God. Not because I left the faith but because I got really honest and transparent with myself and with God. While I am able to write openly now about the realities of my needs-based relationship with God, during that time I was completely in denial.
I thought that because I went to church and spent so much time volunteering at the church, that God and I had a good relationship. I thought I didn’t really need to pray or spend time developing my relationship. I simply did not perceive it as a priority. I wanted it to be, but I wanted my ivy-league acceptance more.
When I reread the story of the prodigal son, one that is so often preached on in church, I see it differently now. Before, I never saw myself as the prodigal son. Surely, I was the son that stayed faithful to His father. I mean after all, my father was the pastor of our church and I did everything He asked me to. But the truth is, I was the prodigal son. I didn’t prioritize God, instead I prioritize my own ambition.
I believe the real fault of the prodigal son was not that He chose His own desire but rather that He failed to recognize all that he had with his father.
When I was chasing my ivy-league dream, I had no idea that the peace and acceptance I was searching for could have been found in Him. Even though I heard the “Peace! Be Still!” scriptures I was surrounded by Christians that seemed to lack that peace and so I assumed that God wasn’t really for me. Of course, in my denial, I would never say this, but it is what my actions indicated. During church services, I would find myself doing homework instead of listening to the sermon. The prodigal son acted out of ignorance, and so did I.
When we fail to connect with God I don’t believe that it makes us “reckless people” but it is our searching for something we have already been gifted freely that leads us to our recklessness.
The prodigal son left because he didn’t value what he had– I did the same.
The truth is that we have already received all the grace, freedom, love, and acceptance we could ever want in life but we have to accept that gift.
Many of us reject the gift so that we can be our own gods. Why? For me, I loved being my own God. I loved being in control. Even though I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t willing to give up my control and fully surrender to God. Even now, I find myself resisting that surrender. To ensure that we stay in the Master’s house we must surrender daily. This is hard– especially when the world makes it seem like the choice to be your own god is the more liberating one, but true joy and peace can only be found when we rest in Him. I’m so glad that no matter how reckless I get, God’s love for me is more reckless than any of my decisions.
I hope my experience inspires you to dig deep into relaying and trusting the Lord in challenging seasons.
Meet Nicole Williams. She is about to enter Princeton’s class of 2022. Her pursue of writing is to guide and give advice to high school and college students who are struggling with insecurities in any area. To see more of Nicole’s work follow her on her socials.