Agape love (Greek word for unconditional love) is arguably the most difficult character quality for most Christians to achieve. The sin nature we are all born with simply does not lend itself to loving others, especially those who have hurt us deeply. But one the first signs of the Spirit successfully bearing fruit in our hearts is when we genuinely love those who have hurt us. In Phillip Yancy’s book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace,” there is a great story about such a love. I have quoted many parts of that story in this article, but I suggest that you get Yancy’s book and read the story for yourself, along with many other encouraging stories He has written about.
A young girl grows up on a cherry orchard just above Traverse City, Michigan. Her parents, a bit old-fashioned, tend to overreact to her nose ring, the music she listens to, and the length of her skirts. They grounded her a few times, and she seethes inside. ‘I hate you!’ She screams at her father when he knocks on the door of her room after an argument, and that night she acts on a plan she has mentally rehearsed scores of times. She runs away.
She has visited Detroit only once before, on a bus trip with her church youth group to watch the Tigers play. Because newspapers in Traverse City report in lurid detail the gangs, the drugs, and the violence in downtown Detroit, she concludes that is probably the last place her parents will look for her, California, maybe, or Florida, but not Detroit.
Her second day there she meets a man who drives the biggest car she’s ever seen. He offers her a ride, buys her lunch, and arranges a place for her to stay. He gives her some pills that make her feel better than she’s ever felt before. She was right all along, she decides: her parents were keeping her from all the fun. The good life continues for a month, two months, and a year. The man with the big car–she calls him “Boss”–teaches her a few things that men like. Since she’s underage, men pay a premium for her. She lives in a penthouse, and orders room service whenever she wants. Occasionally she thinks about the folks back home, but their lives now seem so boring and provincial that she can hardly believe she grew up there.
She has a brief scare when she sees her picture printed on the back of a milk carton with the headline “Have you seen this child?” But by now she has blond hair, and with all the makeup and body-piercing jewelry she wears, nobody would mistake her for a child. Besides, most of her friends are runaways, and nobody squeals in Detroit.
After a year the first signs of illness appear, and it amazes her how fast the boss turns mean. ‘These days, we can’t mess around,’ he growls, and before she knows it she’s out on the street without a penny to her name. She still turns a couple of tricks a night, but they don’t pay much, and all the money goes to support her habit. When winter blows in she finds herself sleeping on metal grates outside the big department stores. ‘Sleeping’ is the wrong word–a teenage girl at night in downtown Detroit can never relax her guard. Dark bands circle her eyes. Her cough worsens.
One night as she lies awake listening for footsteps, all of a sudden everything about her life looks different. She no longer feels like a woman of the world. She feels like a little girl, lost in a cold and frightening city. She begins to whimper. Her pockets are empty and she’s hungry. She needs a fix. She pulls her legs tight underneath her and shivers under the newspapers she’s piled atop her coat. Something jolts a synapse of memory and a single image fills her mind: of May in Traverse City, when a million cherry trees bloom at once, with her golden retriever dashing through the rows and rows of blossomy trees in chase of a tennis ball.
God why did I leave, she says to herself, and pain stabs at her heart. My dog back home eats better than I do now. She’s sobbing, and she knows in a flash that more than anything else in the world she wants to go home. Three straight phone calls, three straight connections with the answering machine and she hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third time she says, ‘ Dad. Mom, it’s me. I was wondering about maybe coming home. I’m catching a bus up your way, and it’ll get there about midnight tomorrow. If you’re not there, well, I guess I’ll stay on the bus until it hits Canada.’
It takes about seven hours for a bus to make all the stops between Detroit and Traverse City, and during that time she realizes the flaws in her plan. What if her parents are out of town and miss the message? Shouldn’t she have waited another day or so until she could talk to them? And even if they are home, they probably wrote her off as dead long ago. She should have given them some time to overcome the shock.
Her thoughts bounce back and forth between those worries and the speech she is preparing for her father. ‘Dad, I’m sorry. I know I was wrong. It’s not your fault; it’s mine. Dad can your forgive me?’ She says the words over and over, her throat tightening even as she rehearses them. She hasn’t apologized to anyone in years.
The bus has been driving with lights on since Bay City. Tiny snowflakes hit the pavement rubbed worn by thousands of tires, and the asphalt steams. She’s forgotten how dark it gets at night out here. A deer darts across the road and the bus swerves. Every so often there is a billboard or a sign posting the mileage to Traverse City. Oh, God!
When the bus finally rolls into the station, its air brakes hissing in protest, the driver announces in a crackly voice over the microphone, ‘Fifteen minutes folks, that’s all we have here.’ Fifteen minutes to decide her life. She checks herself in a compact mirror, smoothes her hair, and licks the lipstick off her teeth. She looks at the tobacco stains on her fingertips, and wonders if her parents will notice; if they’re there.
She walks into the terminal not knowing what to expect. Not one of the thousand scenes that have played out in her mind prepares her for what she sees. There, in the concrete-walls-and plastic-chairs bus terminal in Traverse city, Michigan stands a group of forty brothers and sisters and great-aunts and uncles and cousins and a grandmother and great-grandmother to boot. They’re all wearing goofy party hats and blowing noisemakers, and taped across the entire wall of the terminal is a computer-generated banner that reads ‘Welcome home!’
Out of the crowd of well wishers breaks her dad. She stares out through the tears quivering in her eyes like hot mercury and begins the memorized speech, ‘Dad, I’m sorry. I know……..’
He interrupts her. ‘Hush, child. We’ve got no time for that. No time for apologies. You’ll be late for the party. A banquet’s waiting for you at home.’ “
Read and review both the Luke 15:11-23 passage about he prodigal son, and the heart-warming story written by Phillip Yancy. Ask your children to compare this bible passage with Yancy’s story. Hopefully they will note the overwhelming love of the prodigal’s father, as well as the unconditional love demonstrated by the girl’s parents. Then take your children on a trip to the local bus station and have them act out Yancy’s story. Be sure to end your time with prayer. In your prayer ask God to help your family keep the door of forgiveness always open to those who need and desire forgiveness. When you arrive home from the bus station, open the front door and leave it open for awhile. Tell your children that should they ever walk away from the Lord as the prodigal and young girl did, that they can be assured the door of forgiveness will be open in your home. All they need to do is walk away from their sin and come home. This walking away, and walking home is the act of repentance is a decision God asks them to make (Acts 3:19). The door upon their arrival at your home will be swung wide open. Tell them that when they enter that door their sins will be remembered no more, but instead a great coming home party will begin in celebration of the decision they have made (Psalm 103:12).
Luke 15: 11-32 11 And He said, “A man had two sons. 12 “The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. 13 “And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. 14 “Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country and he began to be impoverished. 15 “So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16. “And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. 17 “But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 18 ‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.” ‘ 20 “So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his slaves, ‘quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.
Acts 3:19 Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”
Psalm 103:12 As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.