Come to Yourself

By Bobby Neal Winters Published on June 28, 2023

I am going to tell you about myself and draw a lesson for you. That may seem self-absorbed, but my life is the one I know best and the one that produced the lesson. The lesson is one the prodigal son learned when he realized he shouldn’t be a prodigal son. It’s: Come to yourself.

I’m a teacher and teaching is one of the strangest, most wonderful professions ever. Our job is to take something that we have and give it to others. When we are done, not only will we still have what we gave away, but if we’ve done it well, we might just have more of it.

I’ve always liked to learn things. I’ve always liked to share things with others. This could mean I am a gossip; it could mean I am a journalist; it could mean I am a teacher. I am — to a certain degree — all three of these things, but mostly a teacher. It is in my opinion what God has put me in this world to do.

The Prodigal’s Insight

Since 2006, however, I’ve been working in university administration as well as teaching. Originally, my job was mainly helping students, but over the last few years, I have become an administrator, heading bigger and bigger departments. Every step up the ladder has meant more administration and less teaching. Less contact with students. Less sharing what I’ve learned. Now most of the students I get to see are the ones complaining about something.

There is an important line in the parable of the prodigal son. Jesus says of him, “He came to himself.” (By the way, I’m not saying that administrative work is like the “reckless living” the prodigal son enjoyed. It’s the opposite.)

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Late in the fall semester of 2022, I came to myself. I realized this is not what God put me here to do. I was talking to one of my best teachers when I told her, “If anyone ever offers you the job of department chair, remember that God put you on this earth to teach.” I realized I was talking to myself.

When I came to myself, I realized that, other than the moments I stole from the administrative work, I wasn’t really enjoying anything I did.

The fact that I turned 60 in October affected me. I don’t have that many good years left. I have all this knowledge of my subject, all this experience sharing it with students, and not that much time when I’m going to feel like standing in front of a classroom and talking.

So I decided to go back to teaching. My heart began to soar. Doors that had been closed began to open; paths were revealed to me. I didn’t actually have a dove descend from heaven to tell me I was doing the right thing, but I’ve gotten all the confirmation I need to know that I’ve made the correct decision.

The Teacher’s Lesson

Here’s the lesson I want to share. (I told you, I’m a teacher.) Sometimes you need to come to yourself. Your life may be going along okay, but you need to stop and ask yourself if you’re doing what God put you on earth to do. Are you using your real talents? Are you building on the foundation you’ve spent years building? Are you happy, with the kind of happiness that tells you that you’re doing what you’re supposed to?

And if you’re younger: Do you want to get stuck doing what you’re doing for the rest of your life? And if you’re older: How much time do you have left?

You probably won’t have the prodigal son’s experience. He came to himself because he’d made a mess of his life.


Bobby Neal Winters is associate dean of the college of arts and sciences and a university professor at Pittsburg State University. A native of Harden City, Oklahoma, he blogs at Red Neck Math and Okie in Exile.

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