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.