Three Things to Consider While You Wait

Household 791Did you ever wonder about the years between the time the prodigal son took off with his inheritance and the time he returned?

We have a pretty good idea of what happened in the son’s life during that time, but virtually no insight into the father’s.

First, I wonder how hard it was for him to let go in the first place. How it must have torn his heart to hear his son say “I don’t want to have anything to do with you. I’ll just take my money and move on.” What emotions did he grapple with? Confusion? Anger? Feeling like a failure? Desperation? Guilt? Resignation? All of the above?

And what went through his head while the boy was away? We don’t know how long it was, but we know it was probably years. Partying away a small fortune, living through a famine, hitting rock bottom, and entering the workforce in the most demeaning job imaginable – all of that doesn’t happen overnight.

So what about dad during this time?

Did he yearn to go out searching for him? Did he think about sending a search party or hiring a private eye? If the story were pulled into the modern age, would he try to turn on the GPS on the boy’s phone, or Google his name to see if he turned up in the news? Would he have constantly fight the urge to text or email him?

It had to be grueling, just living with the silence, not hearing any news. Thinking about the old times, choking back emotions when memories arose. Maybe wishing he had done some things differently – spent more time with him, worked less, had more patience. Maybe he made some serious mistakes that he wished he could take back, or at least have a chance to explain. Maybe he looked back on the good times and felt a twinge of hurt and anger that his son would dismiss all that good and fly from the nest.

Of course, this is all speculation. We don’t know what went on at the home-front while the prodigal was ruining his life. But some of us can draw from personal experience, and feel like we have a pretty good idea.

Which leads to my point (yes, I have one).

Maybe there’s another lesson in this parable besides the return of the prodigal. We must not lose sight of that key lesson – that just like the prodigal, we can always return home, find unconditional acceptance, and be embraced by our Heavenly Father.

But maybe for some of us there’s also the lesson of what to do if we find ourselves in the shoes of the heartbroken father.

Some of you may be there right now.  If so, here are three thoughts about the wait that may help.

First: Life goes on. We can’t allow the pain of that damaged relationship to damage the rest of the relationships in our lives. Others still need us, and we have responsibilities to them. The hurt is real, and we can’t ignore it. But to dwell on it at the expense of other, intact relationships is wrong. Take the pain to God. Find counsel if necessary (there’s no shame in getting counseling – don’t get caught by that lie). But keep loving those that are still in your life. As far as we know, the father still attended to his farm and the rest of his family in his youngest son’s absence.

Second: God is in control. No matter how bleak things seem, God never relinquishes control, and He never drops the ball. Whatever is happening, He is there. He’s not surprised, He’s not outmaneuvered, He’s not stumped. We don’t know how long the wait was, but we know this: the father was still waiting and watching expectantly right up until his son appeared on the horizon.

Third: Do what you can, and let God do what He will. You can’t control this. Relinquish the urge to try. If an opportunity comes to let them know you’re still thinking of them, take it. But trust that the love you showed them while you were together will stay with them, and that God will remind them that they can always come home. The father didn’t pursue the prodigal, but somehow the son still knew that he could return, and would find some sort of welcome (even if it was just a job as a farmhand).

And one other thing…

Keep your running shoes on so you can dash out to meet them when they return!

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Forgiveness

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Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. -Colossians 3:13

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32

It’s a tough gig, this forgiveness thing. Especially when you are deeply hurt, it is incredibly difficult to even think about.

But Paul found it necessary to make nearly the exact same statement to both of these churches. Because although it is tough, it is also important.

Jesus spoke of forgiveness on several occasions:

“Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” – Luke 6:37

“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” – Matt 6:12

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” – Matt 6:14

Jesus even told a story in Matthew 18 known as the parable of the unforgiving servant. It’s the story of a servant who was forgiven an incredible amount of debt (one he could never repay), only to hit the street and demand the few dollars owed him by another. The result? Because he failed to show the same mercy he’d received, the master imprisoned the servant until he could pay every last cent of his large debt.

We sneer at the unforgiving servant, and we cheer the master for his intervention, resting in our satisfaction that justice was served.

And all the while, we are not much different from this unforgiving servant.

As Christians, God has forgiven us a debt that we cannot even fathom, let alone repay. He sent Jesus to a brutal death to pay that debt so we could be forgiven. And all the while we hold against others offenses that are minuscule compared to that debt He released us from.

Mirriam-Webster defines ‘Forgive’ as “to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong) : to stop blaming (someone): to stop requiring payment of (money that is owed)”.

Notice it doesn’t say that forgiveness is “to deny that you were hurt.” It doesn’t say “to pretend nothing happened.” It doesn’t say “to forget what was done to you.” Forgiving is not ignoring or dismissing. It says “to stop feeling anger and stop blaming and stop requiring payment.” That definition presupposes that you first acknowledge the offense.

This is what the master did to the servant when he initially forgave him – he recognized what was owed and then made an intentional decision to not expect repayment. This is what God did through Jesus’ sacrifice – He recognized our offenses against Him and then made a conscious decision not to lay blame to our account. This is what is expected of us – not to ignore the hurt, but to stop laying blame, being angry, and expecting payback.

And as with most of God’s commands, He doesn’t make arbitrary rules that He expects us to follow ‘because He said so.’ The rules He makes are for our own good. The act of forgiveness is freeing, healing, and life-giving…to the one doing the forgiving!

So let loose of that death-grip you are holding on whatever was done to you. Release it. Drop the stone from your hand. Forgive. Be free!