When Their Hands Were Small: A Message To All Parents Of Prodigals

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So he got up and went to his father.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.  Luke 15:20

Our hands all tell a story.

They speak of our journey; of the days we’ve endured, and the work we’ve done, and the things we’ve touched, and the wounds we’ve collected.

Last night I was channel surfing and landed on a documentary TV series detailing the world of drug trafficking in America, and the law enforcement efforts to combat it.

The screen showed two young men barely out of high school, their faces and voices disguised, sitting in a squalid, dilapidated apartment. They lounged on a stained sheet-covered couch, talking about their booming empire, and the mountains of cash they were taking in. Their words ping-ponged wildly between detailed descriptions of their business operation, and the kind of random non sequiturs you might assume a drug-addled brain would produce.

With the ones man’s face blurred, the camera zoomed in tightly on his hands as he spoke. They were dirty, weathered, and beaten; vibrating violently with tremors. His fingers twisted and grasped in the air, like they were reaching for something but always coming up empty.

As he rambled through the interview, I just kept looking at his hands. Suddenly the brutal truth smacked me in the face:

These were the hands of someone’s son.

This wasn’t just a twenty-year old, chemically altered, zombie junkie/dealer. This was the child of a father and mother and a family and a story. It was very likely someone whose arrival was waited for and planned around and celebrated.

His hands were once those tiny, fragile, miraculous hands of a newborn; soft and smooth, with pristine microscopic nails and a perfectly engraved maze of fingerprints. They were hands that gripped the pinky of someone who cradled them.

They were hands marked with hope.

As I watched the show unfold, I wondered where his mother and father were at that moment. I thought about how their hearts would be breaking at the site of this–at the reality of their child’s horrible detour into darkness and addiction.

I wish I could have said something to them in that moment to lift them in some small way.

Since I can’t, I’ll say it you: all you parents of prodigals.

You may not have a son peddling molly from a rundown inner-city apartment building. Your child may not be addicted to synthetic stimulants or physically deteriorating in the prime of their lives, or frequenting overnight clandestine parties in abandoned building basements.

That may not be your story, but for all sorts of reasons right now, some you can’t name or even understand; your child is far away.

There is distance, or silence, or separation between you both, and it’s not what you wanted. It’s not the dream you built in your mind for them when they were born.

It’s not the script you had written for your child when their hands were small.

I’m not sure of your circumstances as you read this, and don’t assume to know the depth and nature of your grief. I don’t want to minimize your hurt, or dismiss the incredible weight of what you’re carrying right now. It’s real and it’s awful.

But if I could do one thing to encourage you today, it would be to remind you that this story; your story, as sad and painful and terrible as it is and has been, isn’t over.

This is not the end, and because of that, hope is still worth having.

The Christmas story is that story, the one of Hope intruding; breaking into Desperation’s day and announcing that the beautiful promise of so long ago is being kept. It’s the defiant declaration that restoration is indeed happening despite all evidence against it. Goodness is working underneath, and through, and all around this mess.

Hope shouts out to the world that even the darkest of days is still pregnant with the capacity for miraculous things.

Homecomings still come to waiting families.
Children do turn around and run back to love.
Prodigals still do come home to fathers and mothers who welcome them with compassion.

Tonight I’m praying for that one hurting young man on the TV screen, with the twisted, aching hands, that he will find his way back home; back to the goodness and possibility and potential of his life, before he lost his way and before darkness creeped in through a million small bad choices.

I’m praying for your prodigals as well, and for the horrible place they find themselves in right now.

I’m praying that they too will find the way back; to the wide, waiting, open road of hope that was stretched out in front of them, when their hands were small.

I’m praying that when they do, they will find loving, welcoming arms there to receive them.

In the meantime, be encouraged in the waiting.


0 thoughts on “When Their Hands Were Small: A Message To All Parents Of Prodigals

  1. Brought tears to my eyes… And as for your cursing troll? Down South I have been taught the point is made with “Bless your pea-picking little heart” ????

    Keep the faith and keep sharing the true Gospel ????

  2. I’ve been through the prodigal son returning……….with both sons. I openly wept when I read this tonight……..I thought of their tiny hands when they were babies. So many hopes for them…………and those hopes were dashed to pieces at times and thrown in my face. Thank you God, that you prevailed and sent my sons home before it was too late. They are alive and well…….not perfect…….but, now where they should be in their own lives. Miracles can happen. I’ve lived them.

  3. I am crying as I read this. My son is “lost” in this world as of now. But I have hope…. Expectantly hope. Waiting with open arms! God is Faithful! Thank you for writing this. No parents ever think that one day this might be part of our life’s. As well as our sons and daughters. Never ever give up hope ❤️

  4. My son started using heroin when he was 15 yrs old. Within a year, he started stealing from us and was gone for days on end. Then he was arrested for burglary with his friends, as part of his deal, he had to attend rehab.

    The justice system is a joke, school was wear he found drugs and rehab was just another money making scheme.

    When he relapsed, I decided to take him away into the woods. He didn’t know that I knew he was using again, so one day, my wife and I made him hear a story we both concocted of his late grandpa’s buried valuables (old guns, gold bricks, etc.) buried somewhere near cabin in woods.

    The next day he insisted on going with me and his uncle (my brother-in-law) to the woods, I “tried” to talk him out of it, but he wanted to see the treasure.

    The treasure hunt morphed into a construction project, to a renovation of the old cabin, to more projects, days became weeks, and then it was 3 months.

    The first few days were tough at nights, but he was so tired during the day, working, that he slept off most of his cravings.

    I don’t know what worked here specifically, but I’d like to think reclaiming all the times I should’ve spent with him growing up was the main contributing element–just time with my son, in the woods.

    Make no mistake here, we were lucky, now my son’s in college, seems to be doing really well. We were lucky because heroin addiction is a chemical addiction, and unless you have access to medication to fight this addiction, it will be very tough.

    Spend all your time, ALL, with your kids now, so you don’t have to spend it mending them after they get in trouble.

  5. Speaking as someone who has been described as a “prodigal” – due to being gay – I would add the following:

    “Prodigal” is a word that, all by itself, tells me my actions have been judged and the verdict is in, and not in my favor. Be careful with it.

    I think John is being careful with the term, thankfully, by asking families to be waiting with love and compassion and open arms, ready to reopen a wide road filled with hope and possibilities.

    However, I need to be clear that this is so much a matter of perspective. My parents’ waited for me – with love and open arms by their way of thinking – to come back “to Christ” by forsaking my sexuality, which, in their view, was not dissimilar to a drug addiction. I cut them out of my life because of their toxicity. We later reconciled.

    A few years later, I became “prodigal” once again when I moved in with my now-husband. I again cut them our of our lives due to their toxicity (3 years later he still was not welcome in their home.) Ultimately reconciled.

    20+ years later (and after all other sibling/cousin marriages had ended in divorce) I’m was once again “prodigal” when my husband and I legally married. Again, I had to cut them out. And yet again, we have reconciled.

    One constant, throughout all this time, they have gone to an anti-gay church. This does not send a message of love to a gay person. Quite the opposite, indeed.

    I say all of this to reinforce two ideas: 1) “Prodigal” is often in the eye of the beholder; and 2) many families believe they are waiting with open arms, ready to love … and the so-called prodigal sees the reality: “home” symbolizes only judgment and disapproval for behaviour which does not warrant it.

    • Hey Mike!

      For me, prodigal simply means “away”. Hopefully my piece described the distance between parent and child, not the fault of the distance. Certainly estrangement cuts both ways.

      Totally agree with you on all of this.

      • Isn’t the whole point of the Prodigal Son parable also applicable to the Rob Bell article, re soteriology, Heaven/Hell,

        the whole point of Salvation is Love, correct? Which is the whole point of this parable.

  6. What a God-incidence to stumble upon this blog today – my son’s 21st birthday! I’ve been emotional since last night thinking of the years that have flown by all the while watching him struggle with life since the puberty-monster hit. I praise God every day that he has never been ensnared into a life of addiction, although I do know that he has used some forms of drugs over the years – I’ve never had to search for him in drug houses in Detroit. He has many other struggles – anxiety, depression, dropping out of high school, frozen with pain and fear…which lead to a life at a stand still. Thank you for this blog post and giving me some hope for him today. I do know that his life is in the Father’s hands, and I and his dad will continue to wait for that moment when we know that he is living the full, rich, blessed life he was designed for. Now pass the tissue! Sniff!

  7. Now imagine raising a prodigal on your own, a woman trying to call a man out of a son….

    I watch him now. In this scene there is no father. There has been no king in this home. Only a queen who has tried to rule and love a king out of a kid. I see his struggle. I hear his mourn. A lion that has never been taught to roar, searching for his growl and only meowing like a cub. http://www.herunveiling.wordpress.com

  8. I have a prodigal, and he did come back. Not when I wanted him to, but when he was ready…ready to leave the thug life and drugs behind, ready to stay out of jail, and ready to grow up and be a man. I lived many years with a broken heart, fearing I would lose my son, but God is faithful. There is hope. They do come home.

  9. I am a prodigal…my wonderings were not physical but spiritual and very private. I lived a lie for decades…white and pretty on the outside but full of death and decay on the inside. I learned how to cope and to justify my behavior. My journey out of the darkness began with THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL by Henri Nowen. In its pages my pathetic life came to light and events soon ripped the bright cloak I was wearing off…I was naked and utterly broken. As I reread Nowen’s book I kept being drawn to the part where” the Father saw the son coming from a long way off; and her RAN to greet him”! I began to read Luke 15 prior to taking communion and the vision of Christ running to greet me broke my heart and left me without excuse. I finally went to my pastor, and poured out the weight of sin…the weight of guilt…my own inability to accept God’s forgiveness. He finally looked at me and spoke the words “John, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Accept His forgiveness and let’s move forward together.” I cannot describe how different my world is today…not that I am better; but having the knowledge of how deep and wide God’s mercy and grace is and how far short my “good works” are.

  10. Oh, thank you. This IS my story. My marvelous, gifted, son became addicted, and overdosed two years ago. He was my prodigal, and yet, God has given me a deep knowing of His salvation, and the glory and joy that my son now knows. How grateful I am for that Truth!

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