Yesterday, two momentous things happened for our project and our family. Two of our coworkers were restored to the team after having a significant time away from the project. At the same time, a man who used to work for us walked over two hours with his wife to reconcile with us after having left without a word months ago. I don’t feel that it is necessary to go into detail about these situations except to say that both of these ‘hevis’ (“problem” in Tok Pisin) caused a great deal of distress for us. In one of the situations, Ben spent literally hours talking to people on the phone and later in person in the village. He focused on biblical principles of reconciliation as well as the most culturally appropriate way to deal with it: involving community leaders and coworkers. At the same time when our local friend didn’t come back, Ben went looking for him several times but couldn’t find him. We spent hours talking about what happened and wondered if we had done something culturally inappropriate. In both cases, we had invested heavily in the relationship, particularly with our teammates, since they have worked with us for twelve years, and when they walked away from that for a short while, we grieved.
What was amazing to me, is that God chose to make the reconciliation/restoration happen for both “hevis” on the same day: here in Ukarumpa and also in Arop village.
Along with that, God had previously highlighted the story of The Prodigal Son considerably for me this past week:
The Story of the Lost Son
Luke 15:11-32 (The Message)
11-12 Then he said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’
12-16 “So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.
17-20 “That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.
20-21 “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’
22-24 “But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.
25-27 “All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’
28-30 “The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’
31-32 “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!
I have thought about how similar I am to the brothers at different points in my life, but I have never related to the Father’s grief (until this week). I certainly have felt that way but I didn’t see the connection until reading the “Prodigal God,” by Timothy Keller. He says,
Ordinarily when our love is rejected, we get angry, retaliate and do what we can to diminish our affection for the offending person, so we won’t hurt so much. But this father maintains his affection for his son and bears the agony.
When I read this, I felt God speaking to me about yet another person who had walked away from us, saying “this is what I’m asking you to do.” (to maintain affection and bear the agony) “Someday he will come back to us, to Me and to you. I want you to live in this pain. I want you to feel what the Prodigal Father felt. That is how I feel when my people turn away.”
I did say to God that our situations are a teeny bit different: He doesn’t ever sin against others…in every significant relationship I’ve had, I know I have sinned in some way. He told me that if I have asked forgiveness, it is done. It’s time for me to receive God’s forgiveness and let Him take all the responsibility for the other person.
I picked up one of my favorite books by Henri Nouwen yesterday and opened right to this paragraph:
The parable of the prodigal son is a story that speaks about a love that existed before any rejection was possible and that will still be there after all rejections have taken place. It is the first and everlasting love of a God who is Father as well as Mother. It is the fountain of all true human love, even the most limited. Jesus’ whole life and preaching had only one aim to reveal this inexhaustible, unlimited motherly and fatherly love of his God and to show the way to let that love guide every part of our daily lives. (The Dance of Life)
Coincidence? Nope. Like I said, “The Prodigal Son” is my theme for this week . Timothy Keller explains in the intro to The Prodigal God,
The word “prodigal” does not mean “wayward” but, according to Meriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, ‘recklessly spendthrift.’ It means to spend until you have nothing left. This term is therefore appropriate for describing the father in the story as well as his younger son. The father’s welcome to the repentant son was literally reckless, because he refused to “reckon” or count his sin against him or demand repayment. This response offended the elder son and most likely the local community.
I think that sometimes because we have devoted our lives to full time ministry and missions, I have believed underneath it all that we would see lives changed and that it would be painless for us.
That’s just not true. (duh, right?)
I feel that God is calling me (and Ben) to a life of love that is unconditional:
to experience rejection
to live in the complete opposite of independence
to stop fixing
to be recklessly spendthrift with my love for others
and to complete reliance on God for each moment of every day.
There is no good set of rules or list that is going to make me a good missionary, wife or mother. Believe me, I’ve read a lot of books, and I’ve tried a lot of things. The only thing I want to focus on right now is asking for wisdom that He is waiting to pour out on me. (James 1:5) And hopefully the love that He gives me for Himself will infuse the rest of my relationships.
I think Mother Teresa understood God’s recklessly spendthrift love in her well known quote:
People are often unreasonable and self centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.