Hope for Hard Holidays
Every year the holidays invite us into a world of memory and nostalgia. We tell stories of yesteryear, rekindle long lost memories and anticipate creating new ones that will carry us into the future. The holidays are times when we are surrounded by those closest to us and for a brief few moments all seems well within our world.
But for many of us the holidays represent something much harder than that. There are those of us whose homes will not be bright and cheery this year. There are dinner tables that will have glaringly empty chairs. For those families a time like the holidays, that is supposed to be the merriest time of the year, can only make the loss and loneliness seem unbearable.
If this holiday season is sure to be a hard one for you, let me tell you a story. Actually it is a story that Jesus told long ago. Jesus was a master storyteller and when it came to the big, complex issues in our world story seemed to be His default. These stories were known as parables and one of the most well known of Jesus’ parables is that of the Prodigal Son. You likely know it well. A spoiled son, a long-suffering father, a squandered inheritance and a tear-jerking, long awaited homecoming.
The heart of the story, like the heart of any good story, begins with relationship.
There was a Father who had two sons. This is not the story of an employer and his workers, nor is it the story of a king and his subjects. Jesus does not afford us that type of distance here. This is the story of a Dad and his boys.
There is something terrifyingly yet wonderfully different about the love we have for our kids. As a dad to 4 boys, I often look at them with wonder, realizing that they are the one love in my life that I did not choose. I choose to love my wife. I choose to love my closest friends. I even choose to love God. But, when it comes to my sons I never had a choice. From the moment they were born, they were mine! Before they could walk or speak or reciprocate love in any way… I was madly and passionately in love with them. It was not something I turned on and not something I could ever turn off.
It is this relationship that adds gravitas to the story. When this prodigal came and asked for his inheritance from his Dad, he was saying so much more, wasn’t he? Dad, I am choosing my lifestyle over you. I have big plans that don’t include you. This home, this life, this family are only holding me back from the story I want to live.
Jesus’ narrative follows the son out the door, but lets focus in on the Father for a minute. My guess is that you don’t have to assume what he is feeling. Even as his son walks out the door. Is he angry? Absolutely. Disappointed? Undoubtedly. Confused? There is no doubt. And broken. He is so, so brokenhearted.
For a broken heart one of the hardest things that can be asked of us is to carry on. But, there are households to run. Dinners to be put on the table. Businesses to oversee. Family members and friends who need our attention. And there are holidays to be celebrated.
Though our hearts are broken, our lives do not stop.
So it was for the Father. He continued his day to day affairs. Yet no amount of busyness could mend the gaping hole in his heart. Whenever the Father had a spare moment he must have watched the crest of that hill that was just above his home, looking for his son. And always, he must have been waiting in his heart. He never gave up hope. Because hope was the one thing he could control. He couldn’t control where his son slept that night, he couldn’t control the storms that his boy had invited into his life. But he could hope that one day his sorrow would give way to rejoicing.
That day would come. But it would not come fast or easy.
Time passed. Holidays came and went. Bankrupt and broken we find the prodigal son sleeping in a pig pin. When he finally decided to go home, he hoped that his dad would take him back as a servant, anything would be better than his current situation. So, he began the long walk of shame home, practicing his convincing speech along the way.
Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants. — Luke 15:18-19
But what he didn’t account for was a father that had been waiting for his return, a father who had worked long days and lonely nights but kept close eye on the empty road on which his son had walked away.
A guilt ridden son and a broken hearted father find themselves on a collision course with one another. As the broken young man came over the hill towards the home where he was raised, he saw an old man sprinting towards him. At the moment they were reunited mere words would not suffice. The father wrapped his arms around his long lost son. The waiting was over. What a beautiful picture of the heart of our God. The God who paces the floors, the God who patiently waits, and the God who never wanted a home without you in it.
The end of the story is the beginning of our hope for the hard holidays. We too are waiting for our hearts to be mended. Maybe this holiday season you are waiting for your loved ones to come home. Or maybe, you have loved ones that won’t ever be with you again. Maybe you are facing divorce, or sickness, or an empty nest, or a strained friendship. Maybe you are just plain lonely. But your world doesn’t stop; you continue to work and invest and live your life, while your heart peaks over the hill waiting for your miracle and your healing.
May you take comfort knowing the Father waits with you. And He doesn’t just wait, He also comes near.
The prophet Isaiah, when foretelling of Jesus’s coming said
the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has shown light. — Isaiah 9:2
If the holidays seem extra dark to you this year, let the bleakness remind you that the Light has come. We, the brokenhearted, do not have to wait alone. We can allow the God of Hope to sit with us and fill up our empty spaces. I pray that during this hard holiday season, you will know how wide, how deep, how high the Father’s love is for you. And I pray that you will be filled with a hope that one day your sorrow will turn to rejoicing.
Original devotion written for Devotionals Daily by Matt Roberts, co-author with Rob Cowles of The God of New Beginnings.
* * *
It’s Thanksgiving Sunday. No matter what is going on in our lives right now — celebrations, divisions, babies born, illness, promotions, or the pain of a wayward child — we can choose to walk with and offer our gratitude to the God who waits with us through sorrow all the way to rejoicing and who fills up our empty spaces. He is here. Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily