You’ve been there: you meet someone with whom you desire relationship, but that desire isn’t mutual.
At first, before you understand that the desire isn’t mutual, you open up bits of yourself, and share with that person. You let them know by your words and actions that you value them, and would like them to value you in the same way in return. But it doesn’t work, and slowly, you come to the realization that it isn’t only about what you want; relationship is a two way street, it’s give and take from both sides. This particular relationship, you acknowledge, is not to be.
The safe human tendency is to pull back from sharing and giving. This is a protective and wise measure that keeps you from expecting something in return that isn’t coming. You adjust your expectations to adapt to the truth of the situation before you. The human heart and mind cannot bear the weight of unrequited affection, and to protect yourself, you have to make the choice to move on from the desire for that relationship.
Or, maybe there was a time when you helped out someone where you saw a need, and they repaid you by gossiping about you. You pulled back your hand and your heart, pulled on the cloak of self-protection, and turned away in anger and sadness. You protected yourself.
Of course, there are also those times when you were the one who set up the boundaries indicating to someone interested in relationship with you that you weren’t on the same page they were. Or, you were the one who gave slander where there should have been gratitude. We have all, in our imperfection, been on both sides of these fences.
When you consider these truths about interpersonal relationships it makes Jesus’ story of the prodigal son (read it here) all the more awe-inspiring. In the story there is a father who loves unconditionally, who gives until it hurts. He has to let his son go ‘find himself’, and then he waits. And he waits. And he waits.
The father’s waiting is an active one. People who loved the father must have encouraged him to give up on his waiting; but still he searched the distance.
The father’s waiting is an active one; he sits on his porch and he looks for any hint of dust moving in the distance that might be a sign of his son returning. As Jesus describes the father’s posture of waiting, I imagine that he also looked for his son as he supervised his workers in the fields, and when he woke up everyday and threw open his windows he examined the road for that hint of dust. People who loved the father must have encouraged him to give up on his waiting; but still he searched the distance.
And when finally the day came that a little dust in the distance became a cloud from which his long-awaited son emerged, the father’s excitement could not be contained. He didn’t berate his son for the money he had wasted, the pit of the filthy life he had chosen for himself, or for the fact that because of his absence the father suffered countless sleepless nights. Instead, he threw open his arms for a strong embrace, welcomed his son back home with all the rights and privileges of sonship, and threw a welcome home party for him.
That father isn’t like anyone we know. In the human experience our reaction would have been so different. No matter what combination of loving, gentle, and compassionate any of us might be, our welcome for the returned son would be tinged with self-preservation instincts. It is difficult to understand the full, unabashed welcome the returned son receives.
This story is beautiful when we think of ourselves as the returning son; and it is convicting when we think of ourselves as the older brother who felt jealousy and anger at the welcome their father gave to his brother; but have you ever thought of how excruciating this was for the father? From the time his son asked for his share of his inheritance, when he got his portion, and while he was gone, the father suffered deep pain in his heart for the choices his son made. He knew that he had a full life to offer his son here at home, but it couldn’t be forced on him; he had to want it for himself.
I think of the way the Father reaches out His hand to help, to give, to share.
There are times in my life when I stop to think of our heavenly Father, not for what He can give me and do for me, but for the pain He feels everyday as people around the world refuse relationship with Him by their own choice. I think of the way He reaches out His hand to help, to give, to share, and the response He gets is to be ignored, and not chosen; how He’s created this vast, beautiful universe that continuously amazes us, but gets little credit for it; and that sometimes when He pulls back HIs hand to not give as much as He could, He is blamed by those who have repeatedly refused Him.
This makes me, in my small humanness, so sad to the depths of my heart. I wonder how our Father handles such continuous rejection on a daily basis? How He sees people in the depths of misery, refusing to turn to Him for help, when all they have to do is just simply ask for His help. Today my heart is broken for Him as I think of the many people who’ve accepted from His hand the good He’s offered, but only come to Him when they need something.
Today I think of the Father, and I look up into His face and say, “I see You, Lord. I see Your pain.” But I can’t stay in this place of commiseration for too long because it is devastatingly too much for a human being to bear. I cry with Him though, for a little while, and then force myself to turn that empathy into gratitude that He is God and we are not. His love reaches to heavens, His faithfulness to the skies! His righteousness is like the highest mountains, His justice like the great deep!
Where we would turn people away who have hurt or ignored us, He opens His arms to receive both them and us. This is a mind-blowing truth to me! He is our Father who waits for our return, not with whip raised to beat us into shape, but with a robe and a party, because what this is all about is that He wants relationship with us – and when we come to our senses, He is there waiting, with arms outstretched in love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. He wants to be known by us, just like we want to be known. In Him, there is always the reciprocity we crave, and that is something that He will never deny us.
Copyright © Debbie Mendoza August 2021