The heart of a father is at the heart of the Prodigal Son story. Over the last few days we have watched the heart of a father break on television. Dale Lapthorne, the father of Britt Lapthorne, has touched each of our hearts as we identify with his anguish and loss at losing a cherished daughter.
In watching on, I thought about the concerns and fears I have experienced as a father of an adventurous and lively daughter, who went to a university away from her home town at a young age, who decided to go to Osaka Japan after finishing university to teach English and immersed herself in the social life of the ex-pats in that city, who has back-packed to various parts of the world, only to return home and enjoy a vibrant (my interpretation of adventurous) social life at home.
Many times I wondered whether she was safe, what dangers lurked out there and what I would do if something happened to her. Yet nothing can prepare us for that moment except our own love and trust that gives them permission to travel and be alive and who they are. To live in the moment.
Yet the anguish when something happens maliciously, as it seems to be the case here, is something we can not understand or imagine unless we experience it for ourselves. My heart goes out to Britt’s family and hope that in the midst of this they remember her for who she was and the good times they enjoyed together.
The Father in the Prodigal Son story shares this anguish and knows the agony of watching people leave, of finding a strength to cope, all the time wondering if his son was safe.
The bigness of his heart is shown by the welcome home and the the way he took his son back in. There is no sign of repentance or saying sorry by the son exccept that he knew life would be better if he went back. The Father doesn’t allow the prepared speech to be uttered. He places his arms around him and takes him home.
And it is here the hard work begins for both of them. Rembrandts painting of the Return of the Prodigal Son shows the clear differentiation of the hands of the Father, one is soft and caring and the other hard and calloused. The inference is that the journey to this point has required, and the way forward will require, a combination of caring and correction, of love and of disciplne, of hope and of trust.
The return home is not the end of the story, but in many ways only the beginning for both of them. The healing, forgiveness, rebuilding of trust and hope and the movement forward into a productive life is only just beginning and will require effort, patience and compassion.