“The message of the Bible is that the human race is a band of exiles trying to come home”(Tim Keller in Prodigal God).
One of my favorite shows is Long Lost Family (Sunday evenings on TLC). The show was created to help people who have been adopted find their birth mothers, birth fathers, brothers or sisters separated in adoptions. Both of the hosts/interviewers/detectives have been separated from birth parents and have successfully reunited with them.
Many of the shows deal with grown children who were adopted as babies. Most had good lives in loving families. Some knew they were adopted; others learned the secret as adults. All felt a loss of identity. What is my ethnic heritage? Who do I look like? Do my birth parents have the same passion for music I do? (Turns out they did!) Why did they give me up? Each show is memorable because the pain of separation felt by the adoptee and the birth parent begins to heal when they meet again and hear the other’s story.
One show tells the story of a woman who, at the age of ten, began caring for her younger brothers because her single mother wasn’t able to handle the responsibility. Social workers stepped in. She was adopted by one family; the brothers were adopted by another. She deeply grieved their loss. But she also grieved her failure to keep the promise that she would always take care of them. They had a sense they had a sister but didn’t understand why they had to be adopted. Her decades-long search was finally successful and they all began to heal.
In another story, a man in his 30’s tells describes being left in the car in a grocery store parking lot when he was 5. His mother said, “I’ll be right back.” She never returned. He was found, placed in foster care, and then adopted. His mother, who had been arrested for shop lifting, decided not to protest the adoption. She knew that her drug addiction would keep her from being a good mother. Their reunion, a wonderful moment of joy and forgiveness, began the process of healing their feelings of rejection and guilt.
The show has been interesting to me on a deeply personal level. The loss of my chaplain father, who baptized me, left for WWII, and never returned has always been hole in my heart. My mother was emotionally damaged by the loss. She burned his letters and never spoke about him – except to say that her life had been ruined by the loss of this wonderful man. Even as a young child, I intuitively knew not to ask questions about him. As I watch this show, questions come up for me, too. How would my life have been different if he had been there? What character traits did I “inherit” from him? What it would be like having the attention and love of a father? How would I have flourished in this “long-lost family?” Those questions will never be answered, but watching these adults come to terms with their questions has been useful to me.
And now it occurs to me that the Church, the Body of Christ, is a “long-lost family.” Members come together searching for the love and forgiveness and shared life of a family. In many cases they find the family of God and flourish. But in too many cases, the behavior of other members of the family cause separation. People are not welcomed in the family because they are different. The rules of the church and the rigidity of traditions triumph over love. Power can divide and conquer. Amends for hurts, big and small, are never made.
There is hope for these long-lost family members as well!
“It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths” (Isaiah 2:2-3 (ESV).
Rivers of people of every color and culture and personality will come together to climb the mountain to the house of the Lord. And they will find everything they have been longing for.