We walked the beach at low tide on Friday. The sun was beginning to set, and the beach was perfect; the water calm and a light breeze blowing.

We walked and we talked, at peace with all of life.

As we turned to make our way back at the end of the beach, we saw a man running. A bit farther on, a woman had stopped and was calling frantically to him. He ran up to her, put his arm around her. Her sobs carried across the sand “We need to find her, we need to call the cops. We need to do something!”

Someone was missing, and that someone was dearly loved. We were witnessing her mom and dad, desperate to find her. Suddenly the beach took on a different atmosphere. Farther up, we saw more people looking. At this point the mom was shaking with sobs. We began walking toward them, hearts sinking, wanting to offer help.

A few seconds later a cry echoed from up the beach. “We’ve found her, we have her!” A little girl was walking, surrounded by a group of people. The mom broke all records, running, running to get her girl.

We stopped and spoke to complete strangers, all of us teary, moved by the intense drama of the moment.  A lost little girl was now found. This was a happy ending. Of all the endings possible, of all the images that went through the minds of those parents, this is the one they longed for: To be reunited with their lost, little girl.

We walked back, sobered and grateful. That which was lost, was now found.

I don’t know how many of you are parents, but whether you are or aren’t, you can imagine the joy and relief of the couple on the beach. And those of us who are parents? Our fear is that our kids will be lost; lost physically, lost spiritually, lost emotionally. We long for our kids to be found; the prodigal son come home, the fatted calf killed, the feast of homecoming celebrated.

Lost – gone astray, missing the way, destroyed or ruined. The mere word brings grief.

Found – discovered, recovered, reclaimed. The grace of being found.

As we left, the sky was a glorious palette of blues, pinks, and purples. And that which was lost, was found. 

Today, may we rejoice in the found ones, and pray for the lost ones.

Series on Suffering #7 – An Invitation to Return

Father and Son

Series on Suffering by Robynn

An Invitation to Return – Part 1

There is an agonizing set of questions that has been troubling people since the beginning of time. Where is God when I hurt? Where is God in the face of devastating suffering? Why doesn’t he rescue? Why doesn’t he bring relief? Why does it often seem he suddenly goes mute and distant, silent and removed.

I don’t want, for a second, to minimize this. These are huge questions. They are big and voluminous. They rattle around our souls, echoing, taunting. We dare not treat them flippantly. But I wonder if there’s not another set of questions that begs asking as well. Where am I when I hurt? Where do I go in the face of devastating suffering? Where do I turn for relief and rescue? Do I suddenly go mute and distant, silent and removed?

It seems to me that suffering, among other things, is also a profound and personal invitation to return to God. We are most vulnerable when we hurt. Desperation and a deep desire for relief and comfort pound our souls like waves on a turbulent sea. It’s relentless. The squeaky wheel, the demanding child, the sounding alarm….the suffering soul repeatedly begs for mercy. I believe that God is present and longs to welcome us, bruised, hurting, grieving, in desperation, home to him. God is far from distant. He is near….an ever-present help in trouble.  Suffering might very well be his request for our attention– to be present to him, to find him there waiting.

There is a fabulous little story that Jesus told. It’s the story of the prodigal son. Books have been written about it, poems penned, paint put to canvas in an effort to capture some of the profound emotion connected to this story. We are all familiar with it. There’s a father and his two sons. The younger son craves adventure and freedom and asks the father if he might cash in on his inheritance early. The older son, I’m sure, rolls his eyes at the absurdity of the request. Their dad is still very much alive. How ridiculous to even ask for such a thing! But it’s worse. In a Middle Eastern context he is basically saying to his dad “I wish you were dead.”

Much to the shock and consternation of the older brother and all who hear the story, the father says yes. He gives the younger son half of what he would have had coming. The younger son, with joy and excitement rides off into the sunset, for the time of his life!

He has the time of his life alright! —but it was hardly the frivolity and fun he was hoping for. He rapidly burns through his money-stash on wild living. In the midst of a local famine and with no resources, he begins to starve. The younger son finds work feeding animals. He’s in such a bad way that even the animal food looks good to him. He’s broke, friendless, starving and doing work that he despises.

The depths of his suffering bring him back to his senses. He bravely goes home to face the humiliating consequences of his many bad choices.

So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

The father full of love and compassion, joy and delight runs to his son! Imagine the fuss and the chaos! Servants are being shouted for…people are running in circles to obey the Father’s wishes! Luxurious garments and gold rings are not the response the prodigal son was expecting. This father –son embrace is pure grace. The son knew how far he had wandered, how much he had wasted, how long he had strayed. And he returned not to punishment, not to the silent treatment, not to condemnation, not to judgment, not to manipulation and distortion, not to a dysfunctional dad, not to a drunken rage…. He returned to love. The father was so happy his son was home. He was thrilled to have him back. He had come home.

Some of the wandering son’s suffering stemmed from his own choices. He chose wild living. He chose to spend all his money. But some of the suffering was because of where he happened to be in the moment. He was in the area that was affected by drought and famine. That wasn’t his fault or his choice. But it was suffering of an intense sort. It was the suffering that brought the boy to his senses. Suffering was the wake-up call he needed to turn home again, to return to his dad.

 If you have missed this series you may want to go back to the beginning. It is an excellent series with depth and challenge.

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/family-father-the-son-of-one-436831/

The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 18 “On Prodigals”

Last Sunday was the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. The Orthodox Church remembers this Sunday yearly.It is one of three special Sundays preceding Great Lent. The first is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. The second is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, and the third is the Sunday of the Last Judgement.

prodigal sonAn icon of the son being received in a loving embrace by his father is displayed, a visual reminder of this relationship and the healing that comes as we move into the loving kindness of God. A special hymn is chanted:

When I disobeyed in ignorance Thy fatherly glory, I wasted in iniquities the riches that Thou gavest me. Wherefore, I cry to Thee with the voice of the prodigal son, saying, I have sinned before Thee, O compassionate Father, receive me repentant, and make me as one of Thy hired servants. – See more at: http://lent.goarch.org/prodigalson/learn/#sthash.VC88gYNt.dpuf

I’ve not met many people who don’t know this story — of a son who asked for his inheritance, essentially wishing the father dead. Of a father who gave that inheritance, the son squandering everything he had in the far places and then suddenly, in the squalor of a pigs sty, coming to his senses. “I’m going home” he says to himself. “I can’t live like this anymore. The pain of my choices is all too much. The servants in my father’s house live better than this.”

So he comes home. His father, who had waited for him all these years, daily looking out so he would be first to greet him when he finally made his way back home, runs to him. Of course, there’s the older brother sulking, angry that this little punk who had ruined his life was being treated as a long, lost treasure.

The story is about God – about this father that waits and longs for the return of his children.

I don’t know many parents that don’t have a prodigal, it seems to come with the territory. And we’re not God – so we don’t always wait patiently, daily looking to see if they will return home. Sometimes we spew angry words through letters or phone calls. Often we are so consumed with our hurt that we think harmful thoughts of these ones who we love so much, who we call our sons and daughters.

When you give birth you don’t know you’ll have a prodigal. You cradle that baby thinking you never loved so much and so hard. You laugh at that toddler’s faltering steps as they reach out to you, encouraging them each step. “You can do it! Come to mommy!” You write down the words and phrases, so funny to you alone. “Frogs sucking on my fingers.” “Let me go, let me jump, let me hurt my lip.” You brace yourself at kindergarten as you realize you are relinquishing some of your organized and tight control to a world that will not appreciate this child the way you do.

Each award and milestone leaves memories stamped in permanent ink in your mind. You try and capture some of this with pictures, but mostly its captured in the heart.

And then for many of us, prodigal years come and you never thought you’d hurt so much. You don’t know how to give God, the one who knows prodigals so well and loves them so much, your prodigal. The hurt comes and goes at odd times. You treasure occasional awkward phone calls and you confess. You go through your parenting like a fine tooth comb through a head of lice. Finding all the nits and lice of what you did wrong, ultimately having to rest in your imperfection and God’s abundant grace. It’s hard to express this to other people of faith — Because other people have ‘good’ children, and you apparently don’t.

They felt good eyes upon them and shrank within-undone; 

good parents had good children and they- a wandering one. 

The good folks never meant to act smug or condemn, 

but having prodigals just “wasn’t done” with them. 

Remind them gently, Lord, how you have trouble with your children too.*

But you slowly learn to hope and rest. You become more like the father, daily going out and praying, looking, but continuing about your business because that is what you’re called to do. The more you pray, the more you realize that you are a prodigal, continually wandering away from God, only to find out that there is no future in the far land. So you run home, and God the Father runs to meet you. 

So you pray, and you hope, and sometimes the day comes when this great schism ends. Only Heaven could possibly understand the joy in your heart.

All creation waits as the prodigal is in the far places. All of creation joins in celebration when the prodigal comes home. 

Every year, on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, I pray a prayer I have prayed more times than I could count. “Lord, Let all the prodigals come home.”

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