Jesus tells three parables about the joy of finding that which was lost. The sheep; the coin; the son.
Some have to squander what God has given them on the unfulfilling pursuits of the world in order to realize their deepest desire for the father’s love and acceptance. The prodigal son was a rich young man who was released to a life of travel and casual sex; a life undoubtedly envied by many other young men, then and now. But for whatever adventures he had or stories he would be able to tell, it wasn’t enough. The high didn’t last, and he would ultimately find himself alone and miserable.
And so it was in the chaos of his own causing, by God’s grace, that the son “came to himself,” and returned to his father. He didn’t think himself worthy to do so, but he returned hoping to be granted the most basic of provisions, like food and a place to stay.
Upon his return, the son began to apologize. Before he could finish, the father hugged him, “and they began to celebrate.” Food and a place to stay were available, but given what he had done with his inheritance, the son was not at all prepared for the warm welcome his father received him with. The son was not at all prepared for the love that was still available to him. The love of the father satisfied a longing within the son’s soul that he had not previously understood, and had until his return unsuccessfully sought to satisfy with insufficient substitutes.