Today begins a new series of posts called Parables. As I planned the series, a phrase from my childhood popped into my head: “A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” I decided to research the word and found that a parable is literally something “cast alongside” a truth in order to illustrate that truth. The website Got Questions labels the 35+ parables that Jesus told as “inspired comparisons” – then adds that a common description of a parable is: “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning”! (My childhood lessons still have value!”)
Jesus often ended a parable by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” This was his call to listen to the parables, not just as one would listen to an ordinary story, but as one who is seeking the truth of God. I hope that my little parables inspire that intent in you.
The first parable in this series is my favorite post of the nearly 930 posts in this blog. It was first run in 2013 and because it is so popular I have re-posted it twice. This is its fourth appearance, but today it is being used more intentionally as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.”
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My husband Fred had been ill for several weeks. By the time he was finally hospitalized, a lung infection had spread to his kidneys and to his brain. After about two hours in the emergency room, he became non-responsive. We talked to him, called his name, asked him questions, but he didn’t answer. His eyes followed us at some points, but there were no words, no responses when he was asked to move his arm or turn over. He was there, but he wasn’t there.
Early in the morning a day later, I walked into his room and stood near him, calling his name. Finally he opened his eyes. A minute later they came alive and then filled with tears. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” he repeated as the tears rolled down his face. “Why?” I asked. “I didn’t do anything.” Then, thinking he meant that he was grateful to be feeling better, I said, “The doctors and the nurses were the ones who helped you.”
He shook his head, “No, I mean thank you for being you. I’ve been in a really dark place. You are the first person I recognize!” And then the questions came. “Where am I? Why am I here? Why are they doing all this stuff to me?” After about an hour, as more clarity came, he sheepishly said, “I didn’t know anybody so I asked for a phone, but I didn’t know anyone to call.” We both laughed and he went on. “The only way I figured out who I am was by seeing you. Thanks again for coming!”
A few days later I heard a sermon on Genesis 3 and listened again to God’s poignant call to Adam, “Where are you?” When Fred was non-responsive, we were all calling him, essentially asking him, “Fred, where are you?” It occurred to me that my sense of loss when the Fred I knew and loved was “missing” must be something similar to God’s reaction when Adam was hiding from him. Where was this creature he knew and loved? And why was he gone?
During the last few days, I have thought a lot about this parable of the lost Fred. I thought about how often we go “missing” from God, so far gone that we don’t hear his repeated calls. I thought about how far on “the dark side” we travel as we walk farther and farther from God’s voice. I was jolted by the fact that we, like Fred, concoct useless plans to try to fill in what’s missing when God’s missing. And how true it is that we cannot know who we are unless we know who God is. And how grateful we are when we finally hear God’s voice and realize he is there.
2020 Update: Some of you may know that Fred died a few weeks ago, seven years after this was first written. As I read this post again, I recognized that the description of Fred in the hospital is the same as the Fred I saw when I walked into his bedroom that last time. He was trying to tear the nebulizer off his face, so I helped him get it off. I talked to him, but he didn’t respond. And then his eyes were open but they weren’t looking at me . . . he was somewhere else, gazing at someone else. His earthly story was over and his heavenly story was beginning.