I was just a boy. Our life was simple, our house small, our family inauspicious. But Mom and Dad never failed to find ways to add a little fun to life. One Christmas, Dad brought home a snowmobile to two boys, gazing, mouths agape out the front window. It was only minutes later that my brother and I were dressed for the weather and climbing about this sleek machine, itching for the first shot at it. It was a brilliant move for the family. Every weekend or holiday when snow prevailed in Northwest Iowa, we’d haul the machine out to Cousin Larry’s farm and spend the afternoon together. Dad would pull us via rope on an old truck tire inner tube over snow-covered hill and dale. We’d try to hang on, only to lose the battle higgledy-piggledy in a tumble of arms, legs, snow and laughter. I can see in my mind’s eye my dad on that machine, one knee kneeling on the seat (as he liked to ride), head held high above the windshield, grinning ear to ear, glasses fogged, circling to give us another go at it. “Do it again, Dad! Again!”
My little sister, who to this day retains something of her unique combination of timidity and total self-confidence, had decided it was time for her to solo on the snow machine. Dad cautiously consented, offered the requisite instruction and warnings. He pointed her in a safe direction. My brother and I braced for the boredom, reduced to making snow angels. Little Sis took her first spin at the speed of a glacier, tediously consuming our treasured minutes of icy rough and tumble racing and daring.
As she pulled away, Dad watched her traverse every snow-covered inch. I noticed him growing anxious as Sister increased to moderate speed and headed in the direction of a barbed wire fence at the edge of the property. Concerned for her safety, he cupped his hands and began to shout her name, warning her away from the fence, already leaning and stepping toward her. Then (and I shall never forget it because it is the only time I’d ever seen my father run flat out) fearing for her safety he took off at full speed, shouting her name. Of all my childhood memories, this one stands forever uniquely etched upon the palette of my mind. I saw my father in dark, green coveralls, gloves and snow boots, running as fast as he could over an uneven fallow field, through a foot of snow, anxiously screaming my sister’s name. I was face-to-face with the depth of love of a father for his child.
I know to this day that this man, so very understated and in many ways so un-animated, is animated by an incomprehensively deep love for my mom, my sister, my brother and me–and for Jesus. And it has always given me profound joy to realize it and recall it. As if his running angst were itself a prayer, my sister–completely oblivious to her father’s snow-muffled shouts–was gently carried out of danger. . . .
“He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary” (Is.40:29–31). . . .
There are many accounts in the Bible of saints running at the joy of seeing Jesus. Zachaeus “ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him” (Luke 19:3). “Peter rose and ran to the tomb” (Luke 24:12). The women “departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples” (Matt. 28:8). There are also accounts of false saints running with pseudo-joy. The demoniac, “when he saw Jesus from afar, ran and fell down before him” (Mark 5:6). Even the rich young man ran to Jesus to pose his horrid, Gospel-denying question: “A man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” (Mark 10:17).
But Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son provides the grandest sprint ever recorded. It unveils for us the heart of God the Father in Christ. Our God rejoices over sinners and sprints to show it.