Any parent of two or more children knows the wonder of watching them grow up in the same home and yet develop as very different individuals. One will be athletic, the other a bookworm. One will be outgoing and the other shy. One will be hardworking and responsible while the other will be interested only in play and having fun.
That’s how it was in this particular household. The work ethic that developed strongly in one child seemed to bounce off the other like ping pong balls on a table. Everything the father tried seemed only to drive a wedge between him and the one child. The alienation grew to the point of shouting matches which ended with the child screaming at him, “I hate you! I wish you were dead.”
The father grieved over this, but no more so than the day the child came to him and demanded a fair share of the inheritance. Now.
The father knew his child. He knew the way easily-acquired wealth could corrupt, and how quickly it tended to disappear. For once, he wished he hadn’t been so blessed. Then he’d have little to divide between the two.
With a heavy heart, he exchanged part of his wealth for currency and took his time counting it out. The impatient child didn’t even bother to wait but grabbed the money and ran. Within days, an empty room in the father’s house matched the empty hole in the father’s grieving heart.
According to his child, the father was old, out of touch with modern ways. But oh, the father knew what was happening to his child. He knew the drunkenness of absolute freedom usually ends in abject poverty of both finances and morals. He knew how free expression of rebellion often turned to bitterness and hatred. If he could save his child from the awful consequences of that rebellion, he would do it in an instant. But sometimes, experience really is the best teacher. All he could do now was wait. And watch. Maybe, just maybe, one day his child would travel that long road back to home.
The father made a habit of searching the road first thing in the morning, hoping to catch a glimpse of his child returning. First thing in the morning, again at lunchtime, and once more after supper, just before twilight grew too dim to see anything. But a year passed. And then two. Three.
Every morning, the father looked down that long path and saw nothing. At least nothing that made him look twice. Until one day when his patience was rewarded. Just a speck at the top of the hill that rose in the distance. He almost turned away, so accustomed was he to the hopelessness. But something made him look again. Could it be? Was it possible, after all this time? Yes. Yes, he’d know that gait anywhere. He laughed. Dropped his tools right there in the yard and took off running.
Oh, the neighbors would have something to talk about now. A grown man running like a schoolboy. How immature! How undignified! Why, think of his reputation!
No, it didn’t matter. He’d give up his reputation seven times—no, seventy times over for this moment. His feet felt like they were stuck in quicksand. Why couldn’t they move faster?
His child saw him, stood stock still to watch him running closer and closer.
Don’t stop! Come to me! There’s nothing to be afraid of.
Tears of joy raced down the father’s cheeks as fast as his feet sprinted up that dusty road. At last, he reached his child, his beautiful, precious child. The stench of a pig farm emanated from his ragged clothing but even that couldn’t keep the father from throwing his arms around the child, hugging, holding, never wanting to let go. He kissed that face smudged with mud, bits of manure and who knows what else. Kissed it again, and again, and again. He read the shame and the guilt in his child’s eyes. Heard the words of repentance.
“Yes, my dear one. I know what you’ve been through. We’ll work all that out later. But right now, you’re home, and I’m going to celebrate like never before. Come on, let’s get you cleaned up, get you some fresh clothes, put shoes on those sore feet.
“Why, you ask? Because you’re my child. Hey, have I told you today how much I love you?” (Luke 15:11-24)
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God. And that’s what we are!!” 1 John 3:1