Where Does Real Courage Come From?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Outside and Cold

                                                       Reflections on Luke 15:25-32

 “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.” But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him…
                                                                        Luke 15:27-28

Had he stepped into a magical kingdom?

With the stroke of his father’s wand, he was the prince at the ball. More like a hero than a godless, immoral son. Is it possible every conversation made him feel prized, honored – with no awkwardness? No references to the indiscretions of his past? Not here, not now, not inside his father’s house.  All of it perfectly erased. And maybe, for a little while, he fell prey to the magic too.

Until a servant whispers in his father’s ear.

He sees his dad bolt for the front door and he knows something is wrong. The magic spell – if there ever was one -- pops like a soap bubble in mid-air. He wants to follow him out. But maybe somebody stopped to talk to him. Or maybe a servant came to his side, urging him not to go. Either way, he stays inside.

But he hears the story.

His brother has come home after working the fields all day. He heard the sounds of music and dancing, found out what was going on, and flew into a wild rage. But, he’s told, not to worry. His father is there now. He’ll handle it. He will turn his brother’s anger into joy and, soon enough, they’ll both come into the house!

He doesn’t buy it.

Just a few hours ago, he was dressed in rags. Filthy, hungry, smelly. For the rest of his life, his brother – and there will be others – who will never forget what he did when he stole his father’s money and wasted it on pleasure and prostitutes. They will see through the regal, Joseph-like, multi-colored robe to the wretched man he’d become. And there he will remain in their eyes, frozen in time.

The stench will never go away.

His father comes back in the house – alone. That face, he knows that face, and he knows it didn’t work. His brother is still out there, his heart cold and bitter against him. He finds someone, anyone, who was there and can tell him what happened. But the news is hard to hear. His brother said things no son should ever say to his father. And his dad, well, he stood his ground. He pleaded with him, begged him to come and rejoice with him. He even nearly broke into song.

“My son was dead and now he lives! My son was lost and now is found!”

But it only served to fuel his brother’s rage.

He looks for his dad in the crowd and finds him. He is, once again, amazed by him. There is joy—real joy -- on his face. Maybe their eyes catch. Maybe they even cross the room and fall back into each other’s arms. But it’s different this time. He can feel the loss and sadness in his father’s heart for his older brother. He knows, come first light of dawn, his father will go back out to pray. And wait.

For his son to come home. His other son.

He feels the anguish of his own soul. If only he’d never left, his brother would be here. Not outside. His father would never have suffered like this. The ache is so real he thinks he smells it again. The rags. The pigs. The way life was, and would have been…

Had his father never opened his arms and come running.

*       *       *

When I got home from work, Erilynne handed me a letter from Callie.

“She resigned this morning. She read the letter at the women’s Bible study. She was brilliant!” I was quickly struck by Callie’s directness and candor. I read part of it out loud to Erilynne.

We always want to put a good face on, don’t we? I do, anyway! It’s hard to admit when we’re not doing well. Or we need something. Or we’re lost and can’t seem to find our way. We don’t want people to think less of us. But sometimes, I think that’s the best place to be. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

It’s where I’ve been these past months. And as hard as this is to say, I know for me to be the woman the Lord wants me to be, I need to step away from what I do for Him and learn to receive from Him. I’ve lost that in my life and I’d like you to help me find it. And though I resign my position today, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be here Thursday mornings, like always. But I need your prayers.

And your love. This is a big step for me and a scary step…

“It’s warm, engaging, gutsy,” I reacted.

“I agree, and so did everybody else. They just love her.”

“I’m happy for Callie, but honestly, I’m concerned about Dave.”

“She said he’s being very supportive.”

“I don’t know what it is but something doesn’t feel right to me. Like he’s there for her but not really. Do you know what I mean?”

“Yeah, I’ll talk to her about it,” she promised, and she did. As the weeks, then a month passed, Callie and Erilynne spent more time together than usual. Callie was beginning to experience the gift of coming to know her Lord. “It’s like what I know in my head is slowly – I mean, really, really slowly – seeping into my heart,” she’d told Erilynne. “I want this. I don’t want to go back.”

And she didn’t.

But those early days were like a rollercoaster ride. She’d find times – like she did at the Friday night prayer service in the city – where she felt the infilling of the Holy Spirit and a cry coming from deep within her, “Abba, Father.” Then, a little while later, she’d be tormented with doubt.

“I feel like Cinderella,” she said, frustrated. “One moment, I’m dancing at the ball. The next, I’m back in my dirty old rags again. It’s crazy.”

Still, the Lord was at work and she knew it.

“Tell me how Dave is doing?” Erilynne asked nearly every time they talked. And her response was always short, sweet, and to the point, “He’s great.” But Erilynne was starting to wonder too. Dave – fiercely loyal and committed -- had pulled back from nearly everything at church. Even Sunday mornings.

“It’s a busy time at work,” Callie would say, excusing him.

Something wasn’t right.

Then one morning, the bubble burst. She called Erilynne in tears, saying, “I’m pushing him away and I don’t know what to do.”

“What happened?”

“Last night, we were talking like usual. I’ve been telling him everything. What the Lord’s doing with me. How He’s helping me deal with my broken, messed up life. But the second I started last night, he lost it. He said he’s doesn’t want to hear it anymore.”

The line went silent as Callie cried.

“Then he said he’s done with church. He’s doesn’t want to go back. And he’s confused about us. He doesn’t know who we are as a couple anymore. He just wants things to be the way they were. He wants the old Callie back. He doesn’t like it when I mention a Bible verse or talk about Jesus in a personal way. He’s done, I mean, really done.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Erilynne said softly.

“You do?”

“Uh huh, I’ve seen this a lot. The moment a woman comes to a saving, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and starts to pursue it, it’s not uncommon for her husband to get upset, distance himself, and make it hard for her.”

“What am I supposed to do?”

“Let’s start with what you’re not supposed to do. Don’t give up on the Lord. At the same time, don’t patronize. Don’t judge him. Don’t talk about him to other women in a condescending way. So many women do that – and it’s wrong. Instead, use the wisdom God has given you.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“I mean this. Think about what the Lord has done for you. He has waited. He has watched. The moment He saw you, He came running with open arms. Do the same with Dave. Wait for him. Pray for him. Love and be kind to him just as the Lord has been kind to you.”

“But I’m scared.” she said. “What if he’s done with me? What then?” Just the thought of it made her cry again. And slowly, after a few minutes, she said everything that needed to be said.

A simple prayer to the One who holds her tight.

“Lord Jesus, I need Your help.”

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John 15:1-11, the Vine and the branches. "Is He everything to you?