A lot of attention gets paid to the Father in the story of the prodigal son especially the fact that he ran out to meet his son "while he was still far off." This is, obviously, an important theological detail, but what I am struck by this morning are the Father's actions around his son's deciding to leave.
"He divided his property between [his two sons]."
That's it. That's all. His son said, "you are dead to me, give me what I'm due." And Dad did it. Dad knew that his son was making the first bad decision of many. Dad knew that without family his boy was nothing. Dad knew a lot, but allowed his son to make the choices he thought he needed to make.
There's a bumper sticker out there that says "If you feel like God's far away, who moved?" It is trite. It is not particularly helpful when someone is in a crisis. It is true, true, true. God allows us to make decisions, even bad decisions. In most cases, he goes beyond what the Father in the parable does and at least makes some of the consequences known, but he won't stop us. We are free to leave.
But we are also free to return at any time. He's waiting, scanning the horizon, hoping that you will return; not so he can say, "I told you so" but so he can wrap you in his arms and say, "I love you. I've missed you. Welcome home."