When I took this picture of my son and his daughter, I was thinking of God’s love for me. Lillyann was fussing terribly, so Tyler held her until she settled down. The word translated “repent” at the end of Job is a Hebrew word that describes the sigh of release that comes from a child who has stopped struggling. Christ’s story of the prodigal son reminds me of that sigh. The son is ready to beg his father for a job. He is hoping for a handout but receives an embrace that surprises all. We recently finished a four-part series on Luke 15 that caused me to pause and reflect on my own longing to be embraced.
“We have all of these influences in our lives by whom we long to be embraced, but we will never be fully accepted, fully embraced in this world. Father God says, ‘I want to embrace you for your being, not for your doing. Will you come home? Will you let me embrace you?'” (Jeff Helpman-“Scandalous Grace Part Four” October 12, 2014)
Christ’s vivid image of a father running with abandon toward a son he believed to be lost models God’s love for us. He didn’t care what others thought or whether his reaction was the right one or not. Love caused him to forget and forgive all and run into his son’s arms. I’ve always loved the story and often wished my own father had been able to love me the way the father in this story loves. God reminded me that my father ran down an embankment and jumped into a muddy lake with the same abandon when he kept me from drowning the summer I was five.
Daddy didn’t say, “I love you” or embrace me tenderly; but he loved me the best way he knew how. He did his best to prepare me for the rough hands of this world. He knew I wasn’t going to make it if I couldn’t pay attention, so he had to do something. He chose corporal punishment to get my attention, and it worked. My spirit was broken, but I learned to pay attention. I loved school and ending up teaching for thirty-three years. I had a special place in my heart for those who had a hard time staying focused because I understood their struggle. I wouldn’t recommend his method of teaching, but it did give me the discipline I needed for success.
I am my father’s child in many ways. He had an insatiable curiosity and loved to learn. I am very like him in that regard, and I see a lot of him in my son and his sweet daughters. I love my father, and I’m thankful I was able to tell him that before he died. We had a rocky relationship for many decades, but we became very close before the end of his journey. I was with him when he had his stroke, and my mother insisted that I take him to the hospital. As I watched him losing his grasp on reality, I held his hand and told him what I knew he needed to hear. It is the same thing my heavenly Father wants to hear. I told him that I knew he loved me. He relaxed, and I saw relief settle into his beautiful blue eyes. It was a turning point for both our hearts.
Fall has been a time of beautiful healing in many ways. I’ve looked back in love at how my heart was handled and come to see that it was handled the best way those holding it could handle it. That may not make sense to some, but it has helped me see that we all love differently and imperfectly. Christ’s precious love is perfect, but ours never will be. That doesn’t mean we can’t try to love as Christ loves. I believe it’s what the story of the prodigal son is all about.