This is a way to tell the story of the prodigal son, using ribbons.
HEALTH WARNING: I’ve done this exercise with both with children and with adults, and it is quite powerful – essentially it’s psychodrama, and you should only do it if you’re confident about facilitating this kind of process. It’s always worth having people on standby for participants to talk to if it stirs up difficult emotions.
Begin with three people (representing the three characters in the story) standing in a triangle, each of them holding the end of a ribbon in their hands, so that the ribbons connect them to each other – ie the people are the corners of the triangle and the ribbons are the edges of the triangle. I use really nice ribbon, and talk up how a loving relationship is something really precious and beautiful.
When we get to the bit about the younger son running off, I use a blunt pair of scissors to cut the ribbons connecting the younger son from the other two characters. I invite everyone to look at how the ends are raw and ragged, and how the father and the older son are left with the loose ends (and so is the younger son, though he is too busy having run to realise it!). When we get to the part about the younger son returning to his father, we hold up the two ends of the ribbon between those two characters, and look again at their frayed ends. We wonder about what it would take for them to be joined together, and how it looks like the ribbon will never be whole again – the ends are just too frayed. Then I point out that the son had walked home, and the father had run to meet him, and get the two people to take a step closer to each other – close enough that there is enough slack in the ribbon to tie the ends in a knot and then a bow. The ribbon is joined again, and it is more beautiful than before – and the father and son are closer than they had ever been. The son now knows the difference between being his father’s servant and being his father’s child.
Meanwhile, the older son is out in the fields. The ribbon between him and his brother is still in tatters. And when he refuses to come in, he is cutting himself off from them both – here, I cut the remaining ribbon, between the father and the older son. Now it’s the older one who is out on his own. This is where Jesus ends the story, so that we can decide how to finish it.
So we wonder together about how we want the story to end. We look at the sad, ragged ends of the ribbon, and the relationships that are still broken, and ask ourselves what it would take to mend all this in real life, not just in an illustration. We reflect that the older son still thinks of himself as a servant, and needs to realise, like his little brother eventually did, that he is his father’s child, and is loved beyond all measure.
Participants are usually desperate to tie up the remining ribbons, so we do that, in the same way, with the three people having to step closer to each other, so that there is enough ribbon for a nice bow on each side of the triangle. We see how the three characters are closer than ever, and we wonder whether that’s what happens with forgiveness – we each have to step towards each other, and the relationship at the end is truer and more beautiful than at the start. We tie the bows slowly to give us time to think about how we go about mending broken relationships in real life.
I end by giving everyone a small length of ribbon to take home – a reminder that sometimes we all have ‘loose ends’ and that forgiveness isn’t easy, but that they could trust God to help them hold the ragged ends, and help us find ways of mending things, but in ourselves and between ourselves and others. We hold our ribbons as we pray in silence for a while, holding before God the things that are unresolved in our lives. We name silently the people we need to reconcile with, and the people who, for whatever reason, we can’t reconcile with, trusting God to hold their loose ends, too.