Invitation to a Prodigal

I have been in Cambodia for four years, and what do I have to show for it? A whole lot of pain and struggle, a few words I can speak in this foreign language, and some great sandal tan lines on my dirty feet. I long for more.

Far too often I am just like the prodigal son. He reached out hands in greed to receive his inheritance early, heart full of discontent and lust for worlds unknown. When he hit rock bottom, he only hoped to be allowed back home as a servant.

I too forget my true Home and the abundance of the Father who gives the most gracious gifts. My heart longs for temporary pleasure and the fulfillment of dreams. I look for the next adventure, wanting more than I already have right in front of me. My soul gets foggy from fear and frustration and what feels like lack; over and over again my memory of what is, what I have, fades away.

I need to be reminded to open my hands to receive, not in greed like the prodigal but in awe and love for the One who pours out lavishly.

Sometimes when pictures flood Facebook and Instagram— happy brides in stunning white, bright-faced babies in adorable outfits— I focus on what hasn’t happened in my own life. I didn’t think I would be single and 31, staring this decade in the face without a partner by my side. I weep or I grumble, “God, this isn’t fair! Why haven’t you answered this prayer?” I need to be reminded that the Jesus is gentle and humble, the tender Guardian of my precious heart. He invites me to receive the gift of intimacy with Him as His beloved, regardless of my relationship status. Life is not fair, no matter how hard I try to manipulate circumstances to make it so. No, God is not fair. His one-of-a-kind, special plan for each of us and the gifts He gives to us cannot be compared with someone else’s, because He loves us uniquely.

I look at my life and work and I want it all to be worth it, to know that all the hurt and endurance will count for something. I forget my role, my responsibility in this whole thing. The Father calls me to receive the gift of abiding in Him, allowing His pruning to break away the dead branches so that fruit can come. Remember, O my soul, that apart from Him I can do nothing. He draws the hearts of people, He sends the rain to the dry and thirsty earth. He is faithful to complete the work that He has started, in this place and in my heart.

When my wandering prodigal heart only sees scarcity, only focuses on what is lacking, I need a reset. I need to stop and accept Jesus’ invitation to rest. I’m terrible at resting. I make my to-do list for the day, and then feel lazy if I don’t get everything done. When I do stop for a time, I’m consumed with guilt rather than allowing myself to be filled. But Jesus offers a different path, a way to get rid of those heavy burdens. He bids us to shed the old yokes, and instead learn His rhythm- free from expectation and pressure and the weight of perfection.

He pours out one gracious blessing after another out of His abundance (John 1:16). Do we have hands open to receive, hearts ready to see these gifts from Him?

What invitation is the Father extending to you? How do you remember to receive with open hands from His abundance?


  1. Helen April 26, 2017

    I can so relate to this. I also want to see the fruit of my labour. While I am still strugling to have a very basic conversation in Chinese, I see oppertunities go by…. today I will rest in Him and receive His love and wait on Him…thank you for the reminder

    1. Sarah Hilkemann April 27, 2017

      Thank you, Helen! Joining you in that prayer that you will receive all the Father wants to pour into you and the little gifts He is giving you.

  2. Cecily April 27, 2017

    Sarah, thanks for your thoughts.
    I struggle with these same things, though I am a little further along on the journey than you.
    Can I just be really honest? As a single woman, I keep telling myself that I just need to be closer to Jesus. But will that ever really fill the empty place in my heart that longs for connection? Or is that just Christian speak? If it is possible, I don’t know how to do it.
    God made us to live in community. But the apostle Paul said that it is good to be single because the single man or woman can give their full devotion to God. But how do I find contentment in that? Honestly. It all sounds good to be in pursuit of this, but can it REALLY happen? I’m so frustrated in this.

    1. Shan April 27, 2017

      Diddo those thoughts, Cecily. Being single, in cross-cultural work, and for years – and yet the Desire is there. It also says it is not good for man (woman) to be alone… So it doesn’t make it easier and I don’t have answers (but I still ask), but I keep leaning on Him who hears my cry and walks with me – when I don’t know or understand my now or my future. Prayers with ya!

      1. Cecily April 27, 2017

        Thanks, Shan! Good to know that others share in my frustration. (Not that I am happy that you are in the difficulty, but that I am not alone in it!)

      2. Sarah Hilkemann April 27, 2017

        Thanks for sharing and joining the conversation, Shan! I sometimes wonder if I should keep asking, but I don’t think our Father minds. 🙂

    2. Sarah Hilkemann April 27, 2017

      Cecily, YES! I totally understand as my heart has been longing for community and connection as well. I believe that Jesus CAN fill the empty holes in our hearts and that He is enough. But sometimes we need a real-life hug or a mug full of coffee and a heart-to-heart with a friend or an extra long video chat. My teammate and I have been living in pretty isolated places for the last couple of years and I’m realizing how much I need the family of God, to have friends to come alongside of me. I don’t have answers about contentment because I’m not there either. I struggle with the desire that rises up in my heart, the fear of being alone, and how to let go of dreams and expectations. But that’s what we’re here for, right? To be real and honest about the struggle and the hard things about this life. To not just say I’m fine when I’m really not. To hear another sister say, Yes me too! Praying with you today.

      1. Cecily April 27, 2017

        Thanks, Sarah, for your reply, your understanding, and for not giving a pat answer! I think it is easy for marrieds to give advice on this issue, but unless you are living it and have come through to that place of contentment with Jesus, then I am not interested in untested advice. This is a genuine, day in and day out reality–not something to be spoken of lightly. I appreciate the space to talk about the hard things that often go unsaid. I’m ready for that coffee date! When are you available? 🙂

        1. Sarah Hilkemann April 27, 2017

          Let’s make that coffee date happen! 🙂

          Real, honest, hard conversations about singleness can be scary for me, because it exposes a very tender place in my heart. Yet, it needs to happen. I’m grateful for the ways it happens here at VA and for open doors for real conversations elsewhere too.

          One thing I’ve learned is that no matter what our relationship status, we’ve all had to bury dreams and let expectations die. This can be so painful whether we are married or single, having babies or not, seeing fruit in ministry or not. I love when we get to walk with each other in grieving those things.

        2. Cecily April 28, 2017

          Maybe I need to make an apology.
          As I read this post and responded to it and read other responses…
          And as I am diving into the Velvet Ashes Retreat today…
          I can see that I am angry, and I can see the anger in my responses here on this page.
          So, if an apology is needed for responding in anger, then please accept my apology.
          I can see that I have believed the lie that from God’s viewpoint, marriage and family is the highest calling on earth. What I see is that this is, in many ways, what our society and the Church proclaims. And, I have believed this lie to the very depths of my being.
          So, it is no wonder that I cannot find contentment!
          If this “lie” is really true, and if marriage and family really is the all-in-all for life, then I have a big problem.
          I have believed this lie, and therefore have believed that God has withheld marriage and family from me, without giving me any other options for something good. And so, naturally, I am angry about this and VERY disappointed.
          But today I began to think, “What if there is something else just as wonderful, or more wonderful for me than marriage and family? What if the Lord has something absolutely amazing for me outside of this box?”
          Thinking in this new way might make contentment actually attainable!

          1. Sarah Hilkemann May 2, 2017

            So cool to see how the Father is working in your life and using the retreat!!

    3. Michelle S April 27, 2017

      Oh, wow. This comment hits on a topic close to my heart. 🙂 I truly believe that God has chosen the best and perfect gift for me in singleness (for now, at least), but it’s been a long–and continuing–journey to learn to accept and embrace that gift. I say continuing because I have NOT got it all figured out and my heart all where it should be yet. But one thing I’ve learned…and am still learning…is that the unsatisfied longings in my heart are a gift–a part of the beautiful gift of singleness. I used to think that they shouldn’t be there, that it showed discontentment if there were still longings for marriage and family in my heart. I begged God to take those longings away, to satisfy them with Himself. But He didn’t, and I felt frustrated, because I would come to Him and find rest and satisfaction in Him, but then the longings for relationship, for intimate heart fellowship, for a husband and children, would almost overwhelm me again. But I’ve slowly realized that these longings are a gift, a chain that binds me to God and keeps drawing me back to Him. They keep me crying out to Him (you know–who else do I have to cry to?): “God, I can’t do this on my own.” “God, I’m lonely…I need someone.” “God, my heart is full of longing. Come and speak to my needy heart.” He doesn’t satisfy the longings once for all. He doesn’t even let me come to Him once a day and “fill up my tank” so that my longings are satisfied for that day. He keeps me constantly coming back to Him, constantly communing with Him, because that’s the only way to deal with the heart hunger and loneliness.
      I don’t know if I’ve managed to make myself clear. And I certainly hope I didn’t make it sound like I think I have all the answers, because I DON’T. May the Lord continue to teach each of us the beauty of the relationship we can have with Him as our Husband and our Beloved, and the satisfaction we can have in Him even as we experience unmet longings. Praying for/with you!
      And thank you, Sarah, for the beautiful post!

      1. Sarah Hilkemann April 27, 2017

        Michelle, wow! I am so blessed by your comment and by your honesty. I have struggled a lot with feeling like I have surrendered the dream of marriage and a family to the Lord but then felt like a terrible person because the desire was still there. But what a beautiful reminder that those longings can be a gift, and that I need to keep taking them to Jesus and commune with Him moment by moment. Thank you so much for sharing this! 🙂

      2. T April 28, 2017

        I’m really glad you wrote this!

        1. T April 28, 2017

          (that was to Michelle)

  3. T April 28, 2017

    I didn’t want to interrupt the earlier dialogue, as I met my husband on the field, but I do want to say that I had never “arrived” or had given up my singleness to God “enough” as people will sometimes say you should do, and then wham! bam! you meet the man of your dreams who happens to want to work in your field, and wonder of wonder, likes you? aaargh! I agree that that isn’t how this works, or what this is about. You ladies are not (trying to translate a useful word from Arabic…nuqsiin) the ones with the lack, you are NOT “not good enough”! I’m sure you are (in your own unique ways!!) beautiful and funny and interesting and smart and hardworking, and wanting to please our Loving Lord. I’m sure that you could make a fantastic wife and mother. I am so sorry for the hard things in your lives that you have to deal with, and the situations that you feel uncomfortable, and even scared in. Aaargh! I don’t even know you personally, and I am sitting here crying for you. I’m thankful that our Joint Father does truly feel compassion for you, and I’m encouraged by your testimonies here. Please continue in grace, and don’t allow lies to enter your minds that there is something wrong with you…

    1. Sarah Hilkemann May 2, 2017

      T, thank you for sharing your story! Your words are important and the story that the Father is weaving in your life is important too. Thank you for taking the time to share sweet encouragement too!

    2. Michelle S May 2, 2017

      Not that I really have anything more to say than Sarah already said, but I just wanted to chime in too and say, thank you, T! Thank you for sharing your story, and thank you for your words of encouragement. It means so much when someone cares and when someone sees value in me–not less because I am single. It reminds again of how GOD sees us…

      1. T May 2, 2017


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