It’s my son’s birthday today. Unlike the well known parable of the prodigal son and his father, there is no happy re-union today. The horizon is empty again. He has not come home and the door is still open.
Many of you reading this blog have a son or daughter that is far away in some other land. It may not be geographically far away but it may as well be. Regardless of the physical distance, the gap between your souls is significant and without a dramatic change in the circumstances, it is not being closed any time soon. In fact, it seems to be increasing with time. As a parent, this is your daily reality.
Whenever we have heard the famous parable of the prodigal son and his loving father, the emphasis seems to always be on the momentous reunion. The son, returning to his father’s estate with the posture of a servant. The father, forgetting any pretense of his position or authority and running to meet his son before he reached home. A joyous reunion followed by a raucous party. It is all so familiar. Just not our reality and not the reality of so many families. Like ours.
Why do we never hear about the in between time? The gap from when the son left home, dishonouring his parents by demanding things be done his way on his timetable and then cutting himself off from his family. Setting out as an adult with his autonomy and inheritance to what he thought would be a life of paradise. From when the father and likely his mother let him go his way without following him. The days when they carried on with his brother, managing the estate and the daily affairs. The image we often hear portrayed is a father sitting on his porch looking at the horizon for the day when his son inevitably would appear. A fiction inserted in the story for dramatic effect which is not there.
You see, life must go on. There is a life to live. A business, estate, other family, servants, employees (pick your circumstances) to look after. Perhaps a glance at the horizon every day just in case but inevitably there are things that need to be done. Other relationships with those that value you that cannot be neglected. He has not come home and the door is still open..
It is interesting to me that in the famous story, the father clearly has the resources and the means to pursue his son. You may be in a similar situation with your son or daughter. In all likelihood, the father knew where his son was. People of his stature were well informed and had connections all over the country and in the city. It is interesting that in the story the father seems to be aware that the son is intending to return as a lowly servant. He seems to be familiar with his condition and state of mind. How? Yet he did not pursue. Not once.
Freedom is one of the strangest concepts we can experience. When truly given, it must have the capacity to hurt deeply, otherwise it is not present. When fully experienced, the sense of dominion and potential is exhilarating. In both cases, the weight of responsibility can be overwhelming. We know that taking away someone’s freedom results in slavery. What is often not as obvious is that interfering with someone’s freedom, even when that freedom is causing us great pain through the resulting rejection and abandonment, has the same result. True love will always release freedom to others and will not seek its own.
What was it like for the prodigal’s parents during the gap period? I’m sure they grieved and lamented their loss. Perhaps even passionately prayed for a triumphant reunion. We are left to imagine this since the divine storyteller chose not to include that in the parable. Perhaps that was intentional? As those of us who are living in such a gap must do, the parents eventually picked themselves up and lived their life, continuing to be a positive influence on the world around them. Refusing to feel sorry for themselves and be defeated. That is true faith.
I have no idea how many are living with the daily pain of a prodigal son or daughter. Experience and logic suggest there are many and that wonderful and happy conclusions are the exception rather than the rule. To those living that experience, may you continue to be filled with strength for your journey as you commit to making the world a better place. May your spirit be steadfast as you are committed to walking through life honouring God’s family order.
To my son – Happy Birthday, wherever you are. May your freedom bring you all that you desire. If you choose to never come home, the door of our hearts will always be open.