This painting by the well known Indian artist, Frank Wesley, hung in my father’s church study, his entire pastoral career. Once retired, he kept it in his home and then finally in his room at Wesley Village until he died. The painting and its title, “The Forgiving Father,” captured my dad’s heart when he was a brand new pastor. He found it in a classroom closet at his first church. It was a simple poster for Sunday school curriculum. He moved it to every church office to remind him of why he entered the pastorate. He even painted the background color to enhance it.
This picture was on the front of dad’s memorial service bulletin last week. It seemed fitting as a symbol of everything he believed, lived and preached. When I visited my mother after the service, I looked closely at the picture again and asked her if I could take it home. I promised to replace it for her, with a picture of her and daddy. She liked the trade off.
I wanted to hang it in my home to remind me that my ministry should reflect the Father’s love. When I hung it on my wall, something happened in my heart. My mind went back to a time years ago when one of our children was making bad choices. I was praying for them while reading the story of the prodigal son/forgiving father. Standing in front of that picture, I remembered the strange conversation I had with God. It went something like this.
Me: I feel like the father in this story. (rookie bible study mistake)
God: Oh really? In what way?
Me: Well, my child is out of control and I’m waiting on their return home, like the father did.
God: You are nothing like the father, in this situation.
Me: How can you say that?
God: You are not waiting at home. You are following them around, watching their every move. Instead of staying home, you are a pig-pen-picker-upper.
Me: What is a pig-pen-picker-upper?
God: You have followed your child to the pig pen and are sweeping up corn cobs, hanging pictures to make it look better, and trying to clean up their mess. Go home and wait like the father did.
It took me awhile to agree with God but eventually I went home and waited and prayed. God brought our child back home, without my help or interference. I reflected on that experience from long ago and realized that this wasn’t a one time lesson. God has reminded me of this conversation several times.
Now, the picture hangs in my living room. The story continues to teach me. It stirs me to reflect the Father’s love and forgiveness in my ministry. But even more so, it reminds me, in all of my relationships to have patience during the waiting, give forgiveness whether entreated or not, and extend extravagant love throughout the process.
When you study the picture or read the scripture story, what is the Father speaking to you?