I got a phone call last week every dog owner hopes they never get. "They're gone, Chase. The dogs are gone!" Lacie frantically explained to me on the other end of the phone. They had chewed through our patio door and busted through the screen on the front. They escaped and we had no clue where they were.
Every possible scenario and outcome flooded my mind as I raced home to help search. How long had they been gone? Had they been picked up by animal control? Were they hit by a car? Did they have their collars on? Who can help us look?
The panic and search was brief. A neighbor several streets down found them and brought them back by the time I got home. We expressed our gratitude as best as anyone could after being scared, stressed, and full of adrenaline. I'm sure we seemed flustered and a little crazy.
When the dogs were gone, there were three possible outcomes to the situation. One, they will find their way back on their own. Two, someone will find them and lead them back. Three, they're never coming home.
I think of the story of the Prodigal Son, particularly in the context of Lacie and I having children one day. I love this story and seem to not be able to get away from it. I've seen myself in all of the characters: the younger son, the older brother, the father.
Every parent accepts the risk on the front end that their child might rebel one day. They may break through even the most secure boundaries to find out for themselves what the world has for them. And the three outcomes are the same: they will find their way back on their own, someone will find them and lead them back, or they may never come home.
And what if they don't? What if they never come home? Was it all worth it? Were the sacrifices you made a waste?
I don't begin to pretend to understand fully the heart of a parent, nor the sacrifices made by a loving one. I've only been a dad to rebellious animals at this point in life. I've been a son and a brother, though, and I think I know where my heart will fall on this matter if and when I'm the father awaiting the return of my child.
It would sound something like this:
"It was worth it. I would do it all over again. If you never come back...if this kills you...I wouldn't take back my love for you. I will wait, and I will continue to choose hope."
Any sacrifice made in love is a worthy one, even when unappreciated, even when not honored, even when it's squandered, like the inheritance of the younger son.
In the grandest sense, I think of Jesus, knowing that many would still reject him even after the greatest display of love and sacrifice of all time, yet still chose the Cross, and in doing so, told us we were worth it to Him.
He willingly loved his undeserving children. There is cosmic significance in that act, but in simple terms I think it is the best practical example for how to navigate the waiting of those we love to return.