-Frederick Denison Maurice
The year had been a particularly bad one for the parents in our church-the parents, that is, of children who were now adults. Many of the middle-aged and elderly mothers, in particular, shouldered burdens that kept them pretty close to the brink of despair. Not only were they having to deal with their children's broken marriages and alcoholism and occult practices, but also many of them faced the everyday reality of a new threat on the horizon-AIDS. Far too many of their children were engaging in unsafe, promiscuous sex. The fear of the parents, who were trying so hard to trust God through all of this, was palpable.
One Sunday morning, our pastor interrupted his sermon on hope right after commenting on the fear he sensed among the parents in the congregation. "Those of you who have adult children that you're praying for, children who have left the faith or never embraced the faith and are now living apart from God, I want you to stand," he said. The rest of us sat and watched as these grieving parents stood, some hunched over with the weight they were carrying, some doing everything in their power to keep from crying.
The pastor's next words, in which he encouraged those standing to never give up hope, seemed to offer little consolation. But then he continued: "Now, those of you who were once wayward children, who in your adult years had strayed far from God but have since returned, I want you to stand." As dozens of us rose to our feet-yes, of course, I was part of the second group-he said, "Moms, Dads-there's your hope."
Well! I'm not one to break down and cry in church all that often, but as each wayward child found a grieving parent nearby, we collapsed into each other's arms and pretty much cried for the rest of the morning. And I can't think of too many church services that I'd call unforgettable, but that service was an exception. It was a remarkable experience.
The adult children of those grieving parents never for a moment stopped being sons and daughters. No matter how far they had wandered from their faith or their family, no matter how ungodly their lifestyles had become, they remained children whose parents loved them. To paraphrase the words of Jesus in Matthew 7: If these parents, being flawed humans, could so love their disobedient children, how much more does Your merciful Father in heaven love you?
Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you.
Father, Your love-and Your willingness to forgive-is incomprehensible. After all I've done to You, You still love me. Remind me of Your love when I'm once again tempted to stray from You.