My dad and I are really close. In fact, we’re so close that I worked for him doing all of his bookkeeping for the year before my twins were born. I loved talking to him nearly every day, especially since he lives so far away from me now. But we weren’t always so close.
I was once a prodigal daughter.
For nearly two years I ran from my parents, family, and the Lord. I liked sin and liked living in sin. Talking to my dad (and mom) meant conviction, and I wanted nothing to do with it. If you peered through the window of my past you would have seen that I perfectly fit the profile of the son in Luke 15:11-32. I was wild, impulsive, and opposed to authority on every level.
A quick survey of the families in your church would probably reveal that many have or had children who in some way have strayed from the faith of their upbringing. Parenting is hard work with no real guarantee of the outcome. While every situation is unique and has its own challenges, one thing is certain—prodigal children need to know they are loved. And my parents made sure of that.
In the years I lived away from them, they never abandoned contact with me. While our interactions looked different, they made sure to take advantage of moments where they felt I needed exhortation, encouragement, or just the acknowledgment that I was loved by them. My mom bought me Christmas and birthday presents every year, even though I never once tried to see them for holidays or family gatherings. The presents waited for an opportune time, revealing to my brothers and ultimately me that I was never once forgotten from their grieving memory. I have a box full of letters from them that serves as a painful yet necessary reminder that while my sin was (and still is) grievous, the grace I have received is extravagant.
Love, No Matter the Cost
We often talk about memories from our childhood. For me, my childhood was pretty good. We made wonderful memories together as a family of six. But the memory that captures the most formative event in my life is the one that I rarely think about anymore.
The entire time I was living in rebellion, my parents prayed for me every day. So when I told them I wanted to move home one cold December morning, and was tired of my life of sin, they were overjoyed. This rock-bottom-moment was exactly what they were praying to see. Immediately they began helping me prepare for the move. They arranged flights for me to come home, paid for a moving truck, and began helping me think through where to finish college.
And then I got mono.
I suddenly found myself uninsured and in the emergency room. At this point I was too sick to do anything besides barely plug along to finish my school semester. There was no way I was going to be able to pack up and get myself to Dallas (three hours away) to the airport. My dad had already intended to come help me move home by picking up my car and driving it to Michigan. At this point, I needed him. I had no energy, no real friends, and no ability to think through a move. I was helpless.
My dad flew to Dallas and picked up a car from a friend to drive down to where I was living. Less than an hour outside of the city, the car he was driving broke down. But nothing was going to stop my dad from getting to me. I will never forget the words he said to me as he sat in the Greyhound station waiting on his bus to drive him to San Marcos.
I will get to you, Court. If I have to walk there, I will get to you.
When I picked him up at the Greyhound station he embraced me with tears streaming down his face. It was exactly what I needed. The softening of my heart had begun with the mono and continued with the love and care of a dad who didn’t hold my past hatred of him against me. In those moments, he didn’t hound me about how I scorned him and my mom all those years. He was on a rescue mission. I needed help physically and spiritually, and he was there to give it.
For more than a week my dad stayed with me in my dorm, packing up all my boxes, getting reacquainted with me, and showing me what it means to live like Christ. His example humbled me on so many levels. For two years I had spurned his and my mom’s love, care, and fellowship. And here he was forgiving all of it and welcoming me back in. I was floored and a little self-conscious. In my heart, I was ready to come home, but I couldn’t shake this nagging guilt that told me my parents deserved better than how I had treated them. I was unable to help myself in any tangible way, and I was further placing myself in their debt by their selfless care for me.
There are so many more pieces to this story, like the fact that my dad stayed in the dorms with me for a week to make sure I was eating and getting rest. Or the fact that he went to the cafeteria with me every day to watch me fix my plate and send me back for more nutritious fare. Or the fact that my parents paid all of my medical bills despite the fact that I was the one who abandoned them. This is what makes it all memorable. They didn’t abandon me. Ever.
You don’t always appreciate and understand your parents when you are younger. At 31 now I see my dad (and mom) as instruments used by God to help me understand the gospel. God is relentless in his pursuit of us. So were my parents. They never stopped pursuing me until they had me safely home. Sometimes they pursued through prayer, begging God to open my eyes to my sin. Other times they pursued through letters, e-mails, and occasional phone calls. Even though I didn’t always see it as love, every form of contact was laced with love and care for the outcome of my life.
By God’s grace, he answered those prayers.
Deep Spiritual Need
Prodigal children do a number on the hearts of their parents. And no one understands that agony more than God does. By understanding my sin against my earthly parents, I grew to understand how my sin against my heavenly Father was far worse and deserved a much stricter punishment. In caring for my physical needs through the love of my parents, God revealed to me my deep spiritual need that could only be remedied by Christ.
This is how a parent loves a prodigal. In the same way that God never abandons his children but lovingly pursues us even to the depths of our sin, so parents model (to a lesser and more imperfect degree) the abundant grace of God poured out through them.
God was kind to restore my relationship with my family ten thousand fold. And while I still mourn the loss of those rebellious years, I praise God that he gave me parents who loved me enough to pursue me to the end of myself and point me to the only one who could save me.