Parable of the Prodigal Daughter

There was a woman who had two daughters. The younger one begged for her share of the estate until her mother relented. Soon after, she left and squandered her wealth in wild living far from home. After she had spent all, conditions changed and she became needy. She hired herself out to a citizen of that country, who sent her to feed pigs. She was so hungry, she wanted to eat the scraps for the pigs. When she came to her senses, she thought about how well-fed her mother’s servants were and decided to return and be a servant in her mother’s house.

While she was still a long way off, her mother saw her and was filled with compassion for her; she ran to her daughter, threw her arms around her and kissed her. The daughter said to her, ‘Mother, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your daughter.’

But the mother said to her servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on her. Put a ring on her finger and sandals on her feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this daughter of mine was dead and is alive again; she was lost and is found.’

Meanwhile, the older daughter was working in the field. When she came near the house, she heard music and smelled the feast. So she called one of the servants and asked her what was going on. ‘Your sister has come,’ she replied, ‘and your mother has killed the fattened calf because she has her back safe and sound.’ The older sister became angry and refused to go in.

So her mother went out and pleaded with her. But she answered her mother, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this daughter of yours who has squandered your property comes home, you kill the fattened calf for her!’ ‘My daughter,’ the mother said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we should celebrate and be glad, because this sister of yours was dead and is alive again; she was lost and is found.

This beautiful parable gives the story of the lost daughter from multiple viewpoints. The younger daughter herself realized the depths she had sunk to and regretted her choices. She trusted her mother’s character as generous and kind. She was willing to make herself a servant to receive a small part of the goodness of her mother. The mother, however was merciful and liberal with her and accepted her back as a daughter. She clothed her in the finest clothes and gave her a place of honor at a bounteous feast.

The older sister seems to be the focal point of this story. She is very resentful when she sees her sister has returned because she feels slighted that there is a party in her sister’s honor. The older sister never looked to their mother for mercy and unconditional love. She didn’t look at her sister in love and forgiveness, but in judgement and jealousy. She felt that she would earn her mother’s love by slaving away in the fields and working herself to the bone. She said ‘Look at all the work I’ve been doing to earn your gifts and you gave me not even a lousy goat. But my profligate sister is getting a big party with the best cow. You are so unfair Mother.’ By doing so, she never recognized the bounty and free gifts her mother was willing to give. She made herself a slave; her mother did not encourage this. She accused her mother of not even giving her small gifts, while also refusing to come to the feast and partake of the proffered feast. She didn’t trust her mother’s character or understand what her mother really wanted from her or for her. I’m convinced the Mother appreciated both of her daughters and wanted to celebrate the love she had for both of them, and their reunification, but the older daughter would not come to the party!

I wonder how often we, too, choose not to enjoy the free gifts our Heavenly Mother gives us.  How do we mistake how we should be living our lives and make ourselves slaves unnecessarily? How do we exclude ourselves from the party and get angry when other people are celebrated? How often do we judge whether someone is worthy of the blessings they seem to be getting or whether we ourselves might be a more worthy recipient of such gifts?

There have been times in my life when I have been caught up in proving my righteousness. The great heavenly checklist of good Mormon to-do’s was emphasized in church and by leaders around me, so I took it for my daily guide. I strove to mark off each item, though I ultimately found I fell short. Rather than turn to God’s grace, I instead buckled down and rolled up my sleeves and went to work. Temple work, genealogy, visiting teaching, baking bread, family night, daily scripture study with the family and on my own, trying to be uncomplaining, teaching my children, keeping things clean and orderly, paying tithing, etc. The list went on and on. Essentially, I was slaving away in the fields. For some reason I thought that was where God wanted me. I felt like I’d know when God was pleased and rewarding me. And that was a mistake. This focus also led me to became quite judgemental of others, which was flat-out wrong. When I chose to come unto and trust my Mother’s grace, I found I was also filled with grace.

God is the Mother in this parable. Both daughters get to choose whether to believe their own story about life or their mother’s. The younger daughter’s story was that she wanted the good life now, and didn’t want to work. She took all the good things her Mother gave her and partied hard. But eventually she came to the lowest low and decided to turn back to her mother. She didn’t expect much because she had already taken and wasted. Instead she was surprised by the joy and bounty of grace. She accepted that her Mother was somehow still willing to love her and came, though she felt unworthy, to the feast.

The older daughter was troubled, and cumbered about much serving. She stayed busily away in the fields and waited to hear what was happening from someone else rather than approach her mother and her mother’s feast. When she heard the good news, she still kept her distance. She felt that she was more deserving than her sister and didn’t trust her mother’s goodness. What would she have found if she came in to the celebration? I expect that her Mother would have embraced her, called for another robe, and celebrated all of them being together again. Her mother was willing to give her all the good things all along. She just hadn’t been willing to approach and accept them.

I suspect our Mother in Heaven doesn’t want us to be martyrs, sacrificing ourselves on the supposed altar of righteousness. Yes, she wants us to strive to be good, and to work hard, but not as slaves in the field — she also wants us to have joy and fulfillment, and particularly to come unto her and know her. Will you listen to your Mother in Heaven’s version of your story? Won’t She tell you all she has is yours? Won’t She also tell you it is okay to take time also to enjoy life, invest in yourself, and be merry with your friends? When you trust in her goodness I suspect it will be easier to love others as well and not be preoccupied with who is doing what. Won’t she tell you she loves you and has always been there ready with a celebratory feast in your honor?


Chiaroscuro is a play of light and shadow. Finding noisy messy lovely life in all the shades between.

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7 Responses

  1. Spunky says:

    I needed this today, thank you. Perfect timing for the holidays!

  2. Lonicera says:

    This version is so much better than SWK’s interpretation in The Miracle of Forgiveness”.

    • chiaroscuro says:

      I don’t remember how he frames it. I did find many things in that book particularly painful. What does he say about the Prodigal?

      • Lonicera says:

        Essentially, he said the prodigal son totally blew it. He got a party, but he spent his inheritance and that was it. The older brother was the goodguy in the story. When he complained, the father told him he still had his inheritance. His little brother now had nothing. So be a good sport about the party.
        This interpretation totally negates forgiveness.

  3. Michelle says:

    You left out the most important quality of what makes Heavenly Mother different from Heavenly Father. Heavenly Mother does not put her career aspirations and self-actualization before the billions of children she gave birth to. No one ever shamed her from wanting to stay in her heavenly home to care and nurture and raise these two daughters instead of leaving it up to others while patting herself on the back for achieving celestial glory. All by herself. There’s a reason no one questions the male version of this story. A man’s marital status is obsolete while we can probably assume the older daughter married early and was raising a family of farmers, doing everything she was taught from birth to do. This daughter already had her “wedding feast” complete with fatted calf, fine robe and ring on her finger while the prodigal daughter gets to “have it all” and of course, that isn’t very fair, is it? The moral of your story is: Until a woman gets married, Heavenly Mother can’t bless her daughters with everything she has.

  4. Nicole says:

    This is exactly what I tried to teach in Relief Society, but failed miserably. I wish I had read this before!! You are a genius

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