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Life’s Loose Ends

A Reflection on the second part of the prodigal son story.

Home Repairs

Second Avenue, Cape Woolamai. Our little blue townhouse by the beach. We’ve owned this place now for nearly ten years. It is home, or home away from home.

I love the way the beach at the end of the road changes each day.

The many dramatic moods of the Southern Ocean.

The way that on a clear night you can see the stars or hear giant waves crashing in the distance.

I feel connected to the shearwaters who arrive over the summer and the tiny plovers born in autumn.

We love getting text messages about the humpback whales that come coasting through the icy water like big blue buses in winter.

The wildflowers in Spring.

The tee trees, bent and shaped by the fierce breeze.

I love the fact that it’s a place of moods and seasons, that it stands on the edge of things.


I often exhale on the bridge from San Remo to Phillip Island.

I am entering a different space.

A place to rest.

Except, of course, when there are home repairs to be done.


Now some folks might feel right at home at Bunnings, I feel lost. The place is a puzzle. Last week Melissa and I scooted down the South Gippsland Highway for a day at the beach.

When we got there I looked up at one of our trees and noticed it was growing perilously close the powerlines. I could risk a trip to Bunnings to get the right piece of equipment or I could take matters into my own hands. Easy choice.

It was only when I got onto the lowest bough, I realized the plan may have one or two issues. Like standing up. Possessing the flexibility of a steel crowbar was clearly not an advantage in this situation.

When I was a kid, I grew up the eldest of two, and as the eldest once you’ve committed to a plan and taken charge, you need to deliver, regardless of the risks.

So, I started sawing the troublesome branch. It seemed a long way from a glass table below, but it’s funny how far a branch can fly. Almost like a superpower really. I called Timber. Melissa took photos . . . handy for insurance purposes, I guess.

The toppled branch hit the table. And somehow the glass stayed in one piece. A Miracle. Home repairs done. A visit to Bunnings avoided; cue blissful satisfaction and relief.

Well . . .

Nearly done.

It was when I stepped out onto the street at the end of the visit that I noticed another branch, much higher up, that would also need to be cut down in time.

The first great truth of Home Repairs seems to be:

Fix One Thing, Find another.


And this is just as true of our relationships inside the home as well.

Last week, we finished our Coming Back Home story with the happiest of endings. The prodigal returns. The father forgives him of his sins, and all is well. Cue Cold Chisel and a few steaks or goats charred over the barbecue. Perfect.



Fix One Thing, Find Another.

Off in the distance, the eldest son hears Khe San starting up and he’s not happy. He does what most of us do when we are unhappy about someone. He speaks to someone else about it. Classic triangulation! Person A has a problem with Person B so they speak to Person C. In this case it’s a servant who acts as a rescuer and is the bearer of what is bad news for this eldest: The Youngest has come back home and the father has thrown a celebration.

The eldest gets angry. The word used here is the same Greek term to describe a judge in a courtroom. He is upset about the injustice of it all.

Now notice the consistency here of the Father, the God figure, in our story. He does the exact same thing as he did for the youngest.

He surrenders his pride and leaves the family home to seek out the one who is lost. Whispers would be starting all round the party, about a fractured home, but the father goes anyway. Relationships mean more to him than looking good.

The eldest confronts his father:

Listen, all these years I’ve worked hard for you. I’ve never disobeyed one of your orders. But how many times have you even given me a little goat to roast for a party with my friends? Not once! This is not fair! o this son of yours comes, this wasteful delinquent who has spent your hard-earned wealth on loose women, and what do you do? You butcher the fattest calf from our herd!”

The eldest son here proves that the one sure way to make ourselves truly miserable, is to look sideways across at someone else and to wish we had what they did. But I wonder too, if there’s a deeper story here about letting go and learning to trust.


Let’s go back to the family home at 13 Kristine Court, Cheltenham, where I grew up, for a moment.

I was the eldest of two. My brother Mike is four years younger than me. A decent gap. And like the prodigal Mike loved to test the limits. There was his near miss with a logging truck in Tasmania and a near fatal car accident when he first got his licence.

Mike was a brilliant sportsman; I was the one who studied hard and went to University. I got my hair cut with a neat part, short back and sides, Mike got spikes stuck in place with gel and his head shaved.

Sound familiar?

I made plans for what we would do each day in the holidays. I was in control. I knew what to do. I was the eldest. The responsible one. What I found as I got older, was that in times of anxiety or stress I would revert to what I knew: Taking control. Making plans. Being responsible.

Which is all well and good,

Except . . .

Sometimes you can’t. Sometimes loose ends and grief are unavoidable. Sometimes you can only let things play out.


You see, in this story, the eldest thinks he knows better than the father. I suspect, the fear that is rattling around his self-righteous head is: But what if the youngest does it again? What if he lets us down again? That’s how many eldest siblings think. Why reward someone with a party? Keep them on the straight and narrow and give them some discipline.

Take control.

Do something.

The Father, drawing from the infinite well of his unconditional love, can only extend an invitation to the eldest to come back home:

My son, you are always with me, and all I have is yours. 32 Isn’t it right to join the celebration and be happy? This is your brother we’re talking about. He was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found again!”


And then . . .


No happy ever after.

The loosest of loose ends.

We don’t know whether the eldest comes back home or not.

Jesus stops the story.

It’s a genius move by the great poet from Nazareth, because he’s basically saying to the Scribes and Pharisees, who were grizzling about him going to celebrations with sinners, over to you. Will you submit to your heavenly father and show grace, or not?


But this story speaks to us as well, it says that for us to truly come home to God, we need to surrender control. To trust. And for us elder sibling types, A type Personalities, that’s not always easy.


That great spiritual guide from the North American desert Richard Rohr says this:

There will always be at least one situation in our lives (in our homes) we cannot fix, control, explain, change or even understand. Human maturity is being able to accept that reality is what it is.”

For this situation beyond our control may just be an invitation to trust and accept that God knows what he is doing. Being truly at home with ourselves and what is happening around us, knowing that not everything in life is resolved the way we want it to be.


I started with the story of one tree, I want to finish with the story of another. A story from Sale where I lived for two years and wrote this in my journal:

I have been living alone in a small unit. It’s an odd experience to go from a family home, with five people, back to being on your own.

The main insight I have from being alone, is that as social creatures we nearly always go looking for connections, for belonging. I have had chats with all kinds of people around town: some at local football games, the newsagent on a Saturday morning, the hairdresser during the week (who also gives excellent head massages), and the lady at the fruit and veg store on the main road.

Oh, and there is one last local connection: A couple of friendly kookaburras who have dropped in for a chat from time to time.

I first noticed the two kookaburras on a bleak day during lockdown, where the sun would peek through clouds intermittently. I rushed to get my camera from the bedroom. One bird sat there with the sun shining on his brown feathered back. He was completely at home. The branch he sat on was like a Chesterfield chair. The branch belonged to a gum tree that also provided a welcome green canopy in summer.


I open the back door to let in the cold country air.

I turn on the computer but then hear a strange whirring sound out the back. It grinds, metallic teeth cutting through something dense.

I look into the neighbor’s backyard and see that the kookaburras’ gum tree is about to be no more. All that growth, all those shoots, all the birds who would shelter from the rain in its branches. Thousands of days of growth gone in a few short hours.

A man in a high-vis orange vest stands with a chainsaw in his right hand about four metres in the air. Ropes are trussed all over the boughs. I feel sad looking at the small woodchips flying out into space. They dart off in all directions. Everything is sprinkled with light brown woodchips. The clothesline, the clothes trolly, the small shrubs, and the small tree in my backyard that is starting to glow pink with the promise of Spring.


After a few hours, I look out the back. All I see now is empty space. The songs of the two kookaburras are gone.


I do feel sad about the gum tree, but I think this also reflects other things happening in my life. Loss is cumulative. It is a loose end and leaves us at a loose end. So, what to make of it all, these losses small and big?

Many of the reflections and sermons I have written over the years have ended on a happy note, but sometimes that’s not appropriate or honest. Sometimes you can only look into the blank space and wonder what will come next.


In the end, a spare space now sits just over the back fence.

It’s a place of memory.

A place of loss.

A space once filled by a broad gum tree.

A place where two kookaburras once sang on branches, that were curved and broad like Chesterfield chairs.

I called the reflection, Eulogy, for a fallen tree.

It’s a reminder that life has many loose ends.

Spiritual maturity is learning to accept what has happened.

But it’s more than that. Ultimately, it’s about trusting that even when life doesn’t make sense to us, God knows what he is doing.

That is trust.

Back at Kristine Court, all those years ago, my grandparents Gordon and Iris gave me a large concordance. I was a teenager at the time. In the front was written Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Wisdom for life’s loose ends.


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