When most of us think of the holidays, we think of getting together with family. Not all. In fact, the holidays can be a very painful and bitter time of year. This past summer, I read this article about a woman who had disappeared from her family without even saying goodbye and resurfaced 11 years later. http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/01/us/pennsylvania-woman-reappears/index.html?hpt=hp_t3.
She had been gone for so long that the family assumed she was dead. At the time she left, she felt immense pressure because her husband wanted a divorce and she didn’t know how she was going to financially care for herself or her children. After dropping off the kids at school, some hitchhikers found her crying in a park. They asked her if she wanted to leave with them, and on a “whim” she left, hoping to leave it all behind and begin a romantic hippy journey. Instead, she awoke to a very hard life. She ended up sleeping under bridges and eating trash scraps from restaurants for years.
11 years passed and then she was arrested for identity theft. She finally admitted her real identity. She was done with her secret life. When she spoke to investigators, she was full of shame. She knew what she had done was wrong, and while she thought of her family often in the most miserable moments, she never took action to get in touch with her family. Her daughter said she could “rot in hell.”
Something stirred in me after reading this story. While authorities are scratching their heads trying to figure out why she never attempted to contact anyone, I had compassion for this woman. Of course it was terrible to leave her children wondering all these years, but who hasn’t experienced shame?
Shame causes us to hide even when we need help the most. It doesn’t matter how much we love someone, shame tells us we don’t deserve love. Shame tells us we won’t be accepted back even if we try. Shame tells us we aren’t good enough, and scraps from a restaurant are all we deserve. And let’s face it, a lot of times shame is right.
Shame has been a friend of mine and has probably been a friend of yours. Why? It’s a source of comfort and protection. In the case of this mother, her children don’t want to see her or have any contact with her. LaDonna Meredith, a spokesperson from a non-profit called “Let’s Bring Them Home” stated, “Ambiguity can persist even in cases that result in reunification. Robbed of so many years, they have to learn anew how to relate to each other.” Sometimes starting over is just too difficult, so it just never happens.
Sometime people use the Bible to judge others and make them feel under par, but then there are stories like “the prodigal son” which reminds us there is no judgement and teaches us how we should love. The prodigal son abandoned his family, wasted all his inheritance, and ended up in the gutters of life. His shame was so great he finally wanted to get in contact with his father, but not to be a son again. He simply wanted to work as a servant for his dad. However, when the father sees him, he FULLY embraces him. He doesn’t say “go to hell’ like many of us would be guilty of doing. In fact, he goes beyond and throws a huge party to celebrate his son’s return. It always hits me in the gut when I read it.
There’s no party for the missing mom. In fact, she got jail time. A lot of damage and trauma has been done. The trust is gone. I’m sure her children have thought, “What did I do wrong?” “Did she ever really love me?” “If I let her back into my life, she’s just hurt me again!”
The prodigal so story is so raw and displays the power of acceptance and forgiveness. The son didn’t deserve what he got. The father wasn’t reserved when he saw him coming in the distance. In fact, the dad acted like a giddy fool by throwing off everything and running to his son with all he had. It doesn’t happen like this today, but maybe it should?
Despite how political the church has become, there is a God beyond all this mess who wants everyone to throw away the shame and come home to Him. That’s what the prodigal son story is trying to paint. It’s not about a God who is going to question you. He’s not going to act awkward because of some hideous thing you’ve done in the past. He’s not going to take anything personal at all. In fact, he just wants to love on you, and let you know you have a home for the holidays.