Don Toms established his restaurant, Eagle’s Nest, when his boys Jason and Travis were little. The restaurant did well, and his boys worked with him as they aged. At 19, the firstborn, Jason, had become the general manager. But Travis was a different story. Travis was smart and capable, but completely unmotivated to work. Don tried to be encouraging and generous with both boys, even establishing trust funds, which could be used for college or received in full at age 30, worth approximately $50,000.
Despite his parents’ generosity, the day Travis turned 18, he proclaimed: “I hate your restaurant. I hate living here. I’m leaving, and I’m not coming back. If you don’t give me the full amount of my trust fund now, I’ll never see or speak to you again!” Don was heartbroken. He didn’t want to lose Travis. So, he wrote a check to Travis Toms for $50,000. Without a thank you he snatched the check and left.
Travis ventured to Chicago. With pockets full of cash, he found easy entry into night clubs and strip clubs. His money brought fast friends, fun and whatever he wanted, including an impressive Mustang from a new-found friend. Life was good, until Travis found his car burglarized after a party. When the police came and ran his plates, the Mustang came back stolen. The car was seized, and Travis was arrested for grand theft auto.
He pleaded guilty and served a 60-day jail sentence spending the last of his money on fines and fees. Travis was a broke and broken 19-year-old convicted felon, hungry, homeless and hopeless. He found himself eating French fries off a McDonald’s parking lot just to get by.
Travis’ whole life was now defined by his epic failures. He realized if he worked for his dad, he wouldn’t have to eat fries out of the dirt. He hitch-hiked back home afraid his failure had doomed him to rejection as he approached his father’s restaurant.
When Don Toms saw the familiar form of his son a block away, he sprinted to him and tackled him in a bear-hug. Travis started to say, “Dad, I’m so sorry, I really screwed up...” when Don silenced him. “You are always welcome here. Today we rejoice, for my son who was lost has been found!”
Our failure can become our identity. Jesus tells a similar story in Luke 15:11-32 to teach us about fear, failure, and forgiveness. God loves you: period. He offers total forgiveness for all of our failure and sin when we receive Jesus’ offered gift of forgiveness and new life and follow him. In Jesus, our identity is totally forgiven, not total failure. Jesus can fix your failure and restore you from it. Even if you’ve rejected God, he doesn’t reject you—he runs to you, hugs you, loves you and receives you when you seek him or return to him. There may be consequences for failure, but it need not define us. Maybe today is the day you need to let forgiveness become your new identity. Contact me if you want to know how: email@example.com.
Kirk Knudsen is the lead pastor at Trio Community Church in Mora.