“The father should have beaten his son.”
Simone’s shocking pronouncement was met with murmurs of agreement from her classmates. Though she was the most outspoken of my middle school English class, she clearly wasn’t alone in her opinions.
These East Asian students had just finished reading the parable of the prodigal son, from Luke 15, for the first time. In great detail, we had talked about each part of the story – how the son left his father’s home, wasted all his money on parties and gambling, and ended up in the mud with the pigs – finally leading up to the dramatic ending of the return home to his father’s arms.
With much prayer and anticipation, I then launched into what I expected to be a good discussion on the powerful illustration of a father’s love and forgiveness. But when I asked whether the father in the story was a good father, the students’ answers surprised me.
“No, he wasn’t a good father,” James responded quickly. “He shouldn’t have let his son leave home.”
“He shouldn’t have given his son money,” Sarah reflected, shaking her head.
“The son is very foolish. He will do it again,” predicted Lisa, brow furrowed in concern. “And the father is not strict with him, so the son didn’t learn anything.”
That’s when Simone chimed in confidently with her opinion. “The father should have beaten his son.”
Coming from a culture that demands unquestioning submission to authority and inflicts harsh consequences for disobedience, these 14 and 15 year old students couldn’t get past the glaring issue of the son’s rebellion. The obvious moral of the story to these kids was that the son needed to be punished. The message of forgiveness was totally lost on them. Unconditional love was something they had never received from their own fathers.
What’s your view of the heavenly Father? Do you see Him through the lens of your own experiences? Are you too caught up in your own guilt to receive His grace? Or will you accept His freely offered, undeserved, unconditional forgiveness and love?
“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” (Luke 15: 20 NLT)
Not much had changed in 36 years. The pathways were worn, and the buildings looked older – but with freshly painted Bible verses on the walls. It was the fall of 2007, and the private Latin American boarding school in this Colombian coastal city looked virtually the same as when I was a young teacher there in 1971.
I was 22 then, fresh out of college. As well as teaching all day, I had to be dorm mother to the students at night and on weekends, making sure they brushed their teeth and got to bed on time, and supervising the cleaning of their rooms and washing clothes by hand in a bucket.
Daniela, a bitter woman in her 40s, was the director of the school. She didn’t want me to make friends with the students, or even talk to them. It evidently made her jealous that the students liked me. Daniela accused me of prejudice against her because she was Colombian and I was American, even though I grew up in Latin America! She also couldn’t understand why I begged for time off to go to the beach that was just minutes from the school, or to visit my friends in the city. After all, she never went anywhere! This school was her whole life.
Finally, I decided I couldn’t stay there any longer. So one day, saying I was going on a “short vacation,” I left Colombia and went home to Mexico. I never returned.
For years I felt guilty about leaving on bad terms, without really saying goodbye. So when I had a chance to go back to Colombia in 2007, I started asking God for a chance to see Daniela, if she were still there and still alive. Amazingly, I ran into a man who knew about this small school and gave me the phone number! With fear and trepidation, I went to meet Daniela, taking a friend with me for support.
Bed-ridden for two years with diabetes that claimed both her legs and most of her eyesight, Daniela was a totally different person from the hard, angry woman I knew before. She smiled gently when I came into the room, genuinely happy to see me.
I told Daniela I had come to ask for forgiveness. Amazingly, she didn’t seem to remember that I had left under negative circumstances. There was no resentment, no anger. I was clearly forgiven. Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming love for this lady, now in her 70s, who had lived a lonely and difficult life. Through my tears, I prayed for Daniela as I knelt next to her bed, aware that this was a heavenly moment.
Daniela died just a few months after I saw her. What a blessing it was to see her and ask for forgiveness. I thought I had gone for Daniela when I went to Colombia and asked for her forgiveness. But it turned out that the healing and release, the peace that came from forgiving and being forgiven, was really for me.
East Asian train stations are not friendly to travelers with large suitcases. Clunking up the cement stairs to the platform with my 50-pound bag on a humid afternoon this spring, I wondered again why I was lugging this leaden weight all over the country. During the three weeks of the Fresh Start East Asia trip I had been pulling, rolling, lifting, and carrying my heavy suitcase through airports, train stations, subways, and bus stations, and my shoulders and back were complaining loudly at the mistreatment. I envied the other locals around me with their small backpacks and shoulder bags, deftly weaving in and out of the crowds, easily maneuvering the endless steps. When will I learn to travel light?
As I started up yet another long flight of stairs, my battered bag bumping behind me, I was reminded of other types of unnecessary weight I often carry around. For years I carried heavy loads of resentment and bitterness towards others. But when I finally was able to forgive, I suddenly felt as if a huge burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I hadn’t realized how much the unforgiveness was weighing me down until it was gone. I felt so light, so free!
Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Are you carrying unnecessary baggage through life? Are you weighted down by anger, disappointments, hurts, or offenses? Don’t carry those dead weights around for another day! Release your burdens to God, and let Him carry them for you. You’ll be amazed at the freedom you’ll find when you’re traveling light!
Rita* sat by herself, head bowed, as others talked and prayed in pairs at the Fresh Start seminar in East Asia. On this last day, the participants were being invited to forgive and release the one who had hurt them, as we have received the forgiveness of our heavenly Father.
Concerned that Rita didn’t have a partner to share with, I approached her hesitantly. Noticing the tears streaming down her cheeks, I sat in the empty chair next to her, feeling helpless. I didn’t have the vocabulary in Mandarin to ask how I could pray for her, much less to understand her answer!
All I could do was pray for Rita, asking the Lord to intervene. Then, in my halting Chinese, I attempted to communicate the message I felt was for her. “God is your heavenly Father. You are His daughter. He loves you.” Rita didn’t look up or respond, but noiselessly wiped away her tears.
Later when people were sharing testimonies, I was surprised to see Rita walk purposefully up to the front of the room. In a quiet voice she told of growing up as the sixth of seven children. Her father had a hot temper, often exploding in anger. Rita never felt that her father loved her or accepted her. The rejection of those early years was a deep wound that remained even after she married and had children, affecting her ability to give and receive love.
During the Fresh Start seminar, the heavenly Father had been filling Rita with His unconditional love, allowing her to finally forgive her earthly father. Now she felt she was able to love her husband and children in a way she had never experienced growing up. Rita declared that she was breaking the generational curse of rejection. A chorus of “AMEN!” boomed from the crowd of 50 plus participants. Face radiant, Rita proclaimed, “This young generation of parents in our country will love our children with the Father’s love!”
Have your parents ever failed you or disappointed you? Has your father or mother failed to be a good representation of our heavenly Father? If so, you don’t have to continue in the negative patterns of previous generations. You can choose to forgive your parents for that which didn’t match up to God’s standards. Malachi 4:6 says that if we seek the Lord, “He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents.”
You can make a fresh start, beginning today, for this generation and future generations to reflect the Father’s heart!
*Name has been changed.
”Bu, bu, bu.” Looking at her lap, the middle-aged woman quietly shook her head, motioning that we should pass to the next person in the circle. It was her turn to tell her story, but she wasn’t ready to share. Not yet.
Sitting cross-legged on the grass on a warm spring day, I felt privileged to be the only wai-guo-ren, or foreigner, in this small group of amazing women. The others were all youth workers in East Asia, participating in a week-long conference on how to reach the rising generation.
The message that morning had been on the Father heart of God, and we were reflecting on how our relationships with our earthly fathers affected our image of our heavenly Father. Embarrassed at showing any sign of emotion, the women struggled to overcome their cultural reserve and open their hearts to the group. Yet one by one, the stories started to pour out.
“When I was younger my father would let me sit on his lap, or hold my hand when we walked. But after I turned four or five, he never held my hand or hugged me again. He didn’t want me to be spoiled.”
“My mother died when I was young, and my father worked in another city and sent money to my grandparents, who raised me. I only saw him every few years. I went to live with him when he remarried. I was fourteen, and I didn’t know him at all. He was like a stranger.”
“I don’t remember my father ever praising me. He said he didn’t want me to be prideful, so he always criticized me and told me what I could do better. I wanted to please him, but whatever I did, I felt like it was never enough.”
“My father never told me he loved me.”
Finally, after everyone else in the group had shared, the last woman agreed to tell her story. I had to lean in close to hear as she began to speak in a low voice, haltingly, her eyes on the ground. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she recalled the little girl she had been, decades ago, who just wanted her father to show that he loved her.
In the silence that followed, I looked around and saw that everyone could identify with her pain. Each woman had a similar story of rejection and disappointment. The unmet desires of childhood had left gaping wounds in their hearts that were still raw years later. As we hugged each other and cried together and prayed for each other, I knew I was witnessing something powerful. God was healing those deep hurts, revealing Himself as our true Father.
Where our fathers or mothers or spouses or friends have been imperfect representations of love, our heavenly Father wants to fill those gaps with His perfect love. God IS love (I John 4:8). He is the true definition of unchanging, unfailing, unconditional love. He will never disappoint you. Let Him fill the holes in your heart with the love of your heavenly Father.
For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ” Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15)