My father is never one to offer unsolicited advice. Growing up in his house, you learned quickly that his parental style was to let us fall, let us fail and learn to pick ourselves up and carry on. The valuable life lessons I learned as a child during these “failures” certainly equipped me to be a successful adult, but it also taught me that I can’t get it right all the time. Through it all, my dad was there and I never failed by myself. If I asked for guidance, he gave it to me, but never once did I doubt his presence in my life. When I became a father, he said, “One day you will pick him up for the last time.”
That stuck with me because I didn’t truly understand it until recently. My son turned nine in March and he’s transitioning from the little kid who loves stuffed animals into a young boy who likes to call me “Bro-tato Chip.” He still likes to snuggle at home, but he’s now hesitant to hug me in front his friends. It’s the great struggle of growing up. We were at the beach last week, and it’s a tradition that we go say goodbye to the ocean before we leave. It was raining and Mallory was waiting in the car to pick us up and begin the drive home. As we walked back to the car, he took my hand and told me that he loved me. It was a God moment. It felt like a ton of bricks landing on my chest. One day, I will pick him up for the last time. Safe in my arms. Pushing closer to me. The most child-like expression of love that a parent can feel.
He’s a work in progress and sometimes he frustrates me to the point of disbelief. He falls, he fails and sometimes I have to let him do it, no matter how hard I want to save him. I understand how my father felt then and I understand how he must feel now. He would give anything to go back in time and pick me up and hold me again. For the last time. Unconditional love is unexplainable, but it is real and it is the foundation of our Faith.
I’m reminded of the prodigal son parable (Luke 15, 11-32) from the Gospel. The father let his son go fall and fail and learn a life lesson and then waited for his return. The Bible says that when the son came home the father RAN to him and kissed him, celebrating his return.
We can’t get it right all the time. We are all failures who hurt each other and feel the pain of being let down by the ones we love. We don’t live up to our Father’s hope for our lives and He grieves when we fall. But He is there – waiting to hold us in His arms.
Maybe you’re reading this and you’re going through something that you don’t think anyone could possibly understand. You might be craving that drink you know you shouldn’t have. You may be texting that person that you swore you’d delete from your phone. You’ve lost your job again and feel like you are worthless. The person you loved has walked out on you and now there are pieces of your life that can’t be picked up. You’re a failure.
But hear this: We have a God who is big enough to pick us up and strong enough that there is never a “last time.” Don’t doubt His presence in your life. People get it wrong when they tell you to hold on to Him because He is already holding on to us.
Hold someone today. Pick somebody up. Show someone unexplainable, unconditional love. It is the foundation of our Faith and a way to see God in your life.
And, if I may offer some unsolicited advice, hug your kids today. One day, you’ll have to let them go even though you’ll always be holding on to them in some way.
“Father, I love you. Thank You for the gift of Your unconditional love. Help me to love people the same way You love me. Help me to remember that You are there in the failures with me and that You will never let me go. Remind me to hold my children tight and show them the grace You show me. Help me to seek You every day and to see Your miracle of love in those moments. Amen.”