Third Tuesday of Advent: Prodigal Daughter
And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward. And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.
But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. …The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
—Isaiah 8:19-22, 9:2,6 (Read Isaiah 8-9)
I had an international childhood.
Growing up, my family moved a lot due to my dad’s work with the Foreign Service. Church was a priority, so we attended many different churches in different locations. While the churches were different, they were similar in what they taught —be a good moral person. Be kind, hold the door for older people, and always tell the truth.
I don’t remember much teaching about Christ, beyond him being an example of good behavior.
As my teen years approached, I was questioning where I fit in the world. As I moved to new countries, I often didn’t conform to the cultural norms of wherever I found myself. I tried different personality styles—quiet and withdrawn, loud and boisterous. I was the smart kid in one place, and in the next place I tried to hide my intelligence. I also went from playing no sports to being on teams year-round.
Through it all, I believed there was a spiritual element in the world, but I had no idea what it was. I thought it might be nature, or an indifferent universal force. By the time I was in high school, I was fascinated by the supernatural and the idea that I could discover my future. I used the Ouija board and tarot cards, and studied palm reading.
On the outside, I had my life together. I had good friends and a loving family; I enjoyed academics and the various sports and clubs in which I was involved. I was even president of my church youth group. On the inside however, I felt that there had to be more.
I still wasn’t sure what life was about.
During my sophomore year of high school, a new youth group leader came to our church, and she invited me to a retreat that was one our church hadn’t been involved with previously. I went, and heard several talks about Christ given by kids my age.
At one point during the retreat, I heard a guy talk about the prodigal son parable and how a similar story had played out in his life. We then went to the chapel and were given squares of paper and a pencil. We were told to write down all the things we had done wrong, or our “sins.” I started writing and filled the piece of paper. I flipped the paper over and filled the back of the paper. I then flipped the paper over again and started writing over what I had written on the first side.
There was a large wooden cross at the front of the chapel, and we were told to come to the cross with our papers when we were finished writing. I came forward and was given a large nail and a hammer, and was told to nail my paper, with all my sins written on it, to the cross. When everyone had done that, the pieces of paper were removed and burned on the altar.
When I returned to my seat in the chapel, I was crying. I wasn’t even sure why as I didn’t cry often, but I was happy. It became clear in my mind that the spiritual presence I felt in the world wasn’t nature or an indifferent universal force, but was Jesus Christ, God’s son.
A leader explained that the burning away of our written sins was a picture of what Jesus did for us on the cross. I no longer had to carry the weight of all the wrong things I had done, but could be free. And not only that, but there was and is a God who sees me, loves me, and created me, and knows exactly how I fit into the world.
After that day, I put away Ouija boards and tarot cards and palm reading because I knew I didn’t need to try to know or influence my future. The One who created me and loves me has it under control.
God did indeed shine light into my darkness, giving me purpose, peace, and belonging.
And He did it through His Son, the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
This Advent, I rest in this knowledge—and in the open arms of the One who came to save us.
—Rochelle Fernands is a homemaker who serves as a member of the CCO Philadelphia Advisory Board.