"...But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." Luke 15:20 (NIV)
I was on the highway, returning home to Nashville from Ohio, when my eyes spotted a billboard that had a picture of a young girl with the words Missing above her photo. In huge, bold-black numbers, there was a sizable monetary reward for knowledge of her whereabouts. I shuddered, as I do every time I see the face of a missing child staring back at me from a poster at my grocery store or card that comes in the mail to my home.
I have to think that not knowing where one of my children had disappeared to would be the worst form of torture I could endure as a mother. I believe the not knowing would seriously bring me to the brink of my sanity. My children do not have the freedom that I had as a young girl to take their bikes and travel out of my sight to play with their friends until supper time. To not know what was happening to them would be unbearable.
Or would it? What if I did know what was happening to my child and I still could not reach her? What if I knew that everyday she was being horribly mistreated and I had full knowledge of that fact? What if I could see the anguish of her heart and was powerless to rescue her because...she didn't want to be rescued?
I have been thinking of a parable that Jesus told to his disciples and others that let the hearers see into the great, compassionate heart of God the Father. There once was a young man who demanded his share of his father's estate and left the safety of home to spend it on wild pleasures. As long as the young man had money, he had lots of "friends" who wanted to party with him. But after some time of reckless spending and riotous living, this once-honored son found himself longing to eat the pods that he was feeding some pigs to keep himself for utter starvation. I don't know how long he lived that way, but, one day, he remembered his daddy. Out of the fog of selfishness and desperation, the young man made a plan to go back home, not sure how his father would receive him back. Thinking that he was beyond forgiveness, he told himself that he would live as his father's slave, just to be near him again, just so he could be in his daddy's presence.
The tears are in my eyes as I type out his daddy's response. At this point in the prodigal son's story, I always get a surge of adrenaline. I want to whisper in that lost boy's ear, "Hurry home, son! Your daddy's waiting for you!" I picture the son, rehearsing what he supposes will be his father's stern reaction to his return over and over again. He knows that he has spent his father's inheritance on worthless things and has nothing to show for it except the rags on his body. The son's shame does not allow him to even lift his head from the muddy road he's traveling on. He's so lost in his thoughts that he does not look up to see his daddy running to him. And then...instead of angry condemnation, this lost boy is engulfed in the embrace of the one who has every right to reject him.
Where are you, little girl? Are you convinced your heavenly Father would never want you back? What have you done, sweet one, to make you believe the lie that there are no more chances for you? Don't you know that your Father has prepared a feast for your return? He will not let you hang your head anymore. He is going to lift it up Himself. And what you will find in His eyes will start healing that jagged wound in your battered soul. Do you know that He is REJOICING to have his daughter home? Because, I believe, that while we are crying alone in our anguish, He has been crying over the fact that we have refused to come home. He is the Parent who has been powerless to force us to return to Him until we take that first step home.
One of the most profound verses I have meditated on in Scripture is from Zephaniah 3:17 (oh girlfriends, you have no idea the gems that are in those Old Testament Scriptures that so many of us are afraid to study!):
"The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing."
Mighty to save you from a past of bad choices. His delight is in you. As we believe Him, and not our feelings, His great love will quiet those accusing voices and we will KNOW that He rejoices over us individually.
What was our ransom? How much did He pay for the ability for you and me to return home? He gave His precious, perfect Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place, to take that condemnation and judgment that had to be paid for our willful, selfish disobedience against Him. Jesus paid it all so that our heavenly Father can celebrate our return with singing! It's time to go home.
Jesus, thank You for allowing me to come home after years of being lost. I never want to stray again from the safety and embrace of my heavenly Father. You made that possible. I will spend all of eternity thanking You for what You did. I can't wait to throw my arms around Your neck and hear my heavenly Father singing over me.