When’s a Hug More Than a Hug?

“But while he was still a long way off,

 his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him;

he ran to his son, threw his arms around him

and kissed him” (Luke 15:20b NIV).


On March 24th, 1978.

At 4:17 pm.

My father hugged me.

For the first time!

Let me be honest here. I don’t have that sharp a memory.

Ask my wife.

Or my son.

I think I’ve got most everyone else fooled.

The actual details from that distant day aren’t that clear. But let me tell you what I do remember with clarity.

In the spring of 1978, I returned home from college. My father met me at the front door and, while I stood on the porch steps, he hugged me. Not a side-by-side-one-armed A-frame hug or a lean-in-quick hug. But a full-bodied, feel-the-whiskers man hug.

That was the first time I remember my father embracing me.

And I liked it.

Here’s the thing. The only common thread between me and the fellow in Jesus’ story is that we both left home and came back. I went off to college. He went off to a distant country. After that, the line of similarity blurs just a wee bit.

I paid my own way through college (okay, okay, with a lot of help from Uncle Sam, summer jobs, and scholarships). He paid for a lavish lifestyle with his father’s credit card.

I lived the disciplined life of a good student. He lived the loose life of a full-time profligate (I had to look that up to make sure it meant what I thought it meant; it does).

I smelled like a kid having made a day’s long car trip (East Oklahoma to South Texas). He smelled like pig crap (which, when I think about it, isn’t all that different).

Now back to here’s the thing. Jesus told this story not to illustrate what happens when we flee from God’s presence, but what happens when we, tail-tucked-between-our-legs, come back.

You see, my father met me, his good college student, at the front door with a hug. The father in Jesus’ story (can we say, “the God figure?”) sees his lousy, punk kid way off in the distance.

And he runs.

And he hugs.

And he kisses.

And he claps his hands.

And he throws the boy a party.

So what does that tell us about the ONE and His attitude toward us who do wrong?

1)      He’s waiting for us to turnaround.

2)      He’s wanting us to return to Him.

3)      He’s willing to meet us while we’re still walking down the road HOME.

4)      He’s wild about us.

I know that last point is reaching just to keep the “w” thing going but it’s also true. The father in the story (again can we say, “God figure?”) is far from tame in his response to his returning son.

So I’d like to unpack those four suitcases. After all, it’s a long trip from a let’s-have-fun-fun-fun wasted life to a returning-in-shame-but-returning-just-the-same son. I invite you to continue on the JOURNEY with me this week as we empty our traveling bags.

Question: What part of the story intrigues you most (i.e. a running father, hugs, kisses, a big party)?


About tnealtarver

I've traveled and spoken around the world but always love to come home. There I eat exceptional meals, drink coffee to my heart's content, and get loved like nowhere else on earth. I believe a community centered in Christ should be all that and so much more.
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