Over the past month our 13 year old son has taken to running away. I don’t know that there can exist a fear greater than that of a parent who cannot find their child. You don’t know where they are, if they are safe and everything is out of your control. A parent’s most natural state is caring for their child and when that ability is taken – you don’t know what to do. Add that to the fact that this parent deals with anxiety and depression disorders and you have a recipe for a mess on the level of a F5 tornado.
This experience has taught me many things beyond the fact that our son is still dealing with issues from his past before coming to live with us.
First, I learned how the church is truly the hands and feet of Jesus. I cannot begin to say enough about the love and support we experienced from members of our church – some we didn’t even know well. I can’t tell you how many people were out looking for him. Staff members, youth group members, our Sunday School class members and other various church friends were all out combing our community. Others provided meals for us or simply kept me talking so I could avoid a panic attack. One created a missing person poster and then Facebook exploded with it. They also cried and prayed with us.
That support did not end when he was found. Instead, they have strengthened their connection with us to provide support as we repair trust and face his past together. When my son had to appear in court my husband and I were joined by a minister from our church and a friend. They were there to support our son as much as to support us. They helped us come up with plans for some new family dynamics.
Second, I have gained a new understanding of the story of the Prodigal Son. In my past I have had times when I sympathized with both the Prodigal and the brother. However, this taught me the viewpoint of the father. Luke 15:20-21 tells us, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (ESV). I remember wondering at this. How could the father simply forgive the sins of the son? How is he not furious? He has been disrespected, embarrassed and shamed. Where is the son’s punishment?
I realize now that those feelings all took a far back seat to the gratefulness he felt to have his son home where he was safe. The other feelings could be handled later. Consequences would have their time. Right now the dominant feelings were joy and relief. The father goes on to say to his servants “‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:22-24 ESV). While we didn’t necessarily throw a party, we did head to my in-laws’ house for an early Thanksgiving dinner. That was the most joyous dinner of my life. I found myself simply looking at him or walking past and touching him. I knew consequences would come, but we could face them together as long as he was here.
Third, I think I caught a tiny glimpse of God’s heart. In the morning of the day he was found I was alone in the quiet for a few minutes. I started crying out to God that my son was hurting and I couldn’t help. Did He understand what I was going through? Did He even care? While the response wasn’t audible, it felt like it could have been. I heard God say “Yes, I care. I am crying with you. Yes, I know exactly what you are going through. I have been there. My Son hurt with the pain and sin of the entire world – past, present and future. It hurt me so badly I had to turn away. I couldn’t bear to look at it.” Wow.
Later that day my husband and I were talking about how our son keeps acting out in different ways. After a moment of thought my husband made a comparison between that behavior and humans rejecting God repeatedly. How we must break His heart! Yet he welcomes us back, kills the fatted calf and brings us back into the home as a son, not a servant. But then we go and do it again! And so does He! There is nothing we can do to make Him not love us. There is no number of times He will take us back. He will not always save us from the consequences of our actions, but He will walk with us through them.