Until that point in our marriage, my wife and I had shared a car. She worked in the city, close to public transport and wherever we went, we went together. And she preferred me to drive. When we had our daughter, the situation didn’t change much. Covid-19 made it hard to go anywhere and we found our four-door sedan big enough to tackle strollers, car seats and whatever other baby gear we needed.
That situation was starting to get stressful, however. Many days I found myself sitting in traffic stressing that I wouldn’t make the 6pm cut-off at day care. I imagined my daughter being the last one left with the teachers waiting, wondering if I was coming. I thought about the extra charges we’d incur because we were late (apparently, they charge extra for every minute you’re late).
Now that my wife was pregnant with our second child, it was time to bite the bullet and buy a second car. She was going on maternity leave again and needed to get around with the kids. The only problem was, I’m not really a car guy. So, when my dad called me, I wasn’t completely surprised.
“Do you have your computer?” he asked.
“Yeah, hang on.”
“Look up Gumtree,” he urged me. Gumtree is an online site where people sell all sorts of second-hand things, including cars.
What has he found? I thought to myself. I’d mentioned to my parents we were thinking of getting another car and thought my dad might keep an eye out for something. He is a car guy. So, when he gave me a model and year and price range my mind started joining the dots and I figured he’d found me a good deal he wanted me to check out. I had to click through a few pages to find it. The car was more than 10 years old but had less than 30,000 kilometres on the odometer. It was basically brand new. I could hear he was excited. I was thinking, This is a good start but a bit out of our price range.
I found the page. Listed there were the seller’s details. It was my aunty.
“What’s happening?” I asked. “Why are you showing me this?”
“That’s Grandma’s car,” he replied. “She can’t drive anymore. It’s basically new.”
My mind started turning over this new piece of information. Maybe we could get family rates . . . but before I could finish the thought, Dad cut in.
“I’ve bought it for you! It’s your birthday present!”
“Your birthday, I’ve already bought it. It’s yours . . . if you want it.” My birthday was a few days away, but I found I couldn’t speak. Tears sprang uninvited to my eyes. The size of the gift, the extravagance of it.
“Do you like it?” Dad insisted.
I think I managed to say yes but I could hardly form the words. When they talk about being lost for words, I now know exactly what that feels like. I was swept away in a tsunami of emotion.
Why would he do that for me? I felt unworthy. It was too much, too extravagant. I’ve done nothing to deserve this, I can’t pay it back and that’s not even an option. It’s a gift. I mean, it will solve a lot of problems and is exactly what we need. But somehow, I can’t bring myself to believe it.
Dad couldn’t hear my thoughts. I could tell how excited he was—his love bursting out through the phone. Eventually I expressed my happiness and excitement. I fumbled through the words I could get out; I didn’t want him to think I was ungrateful when I truly am grateful.
We talked a little more about the car and the logistics of taking possession of it. There was paperwork and the vehicle was interstate. But I was only half-focused. I was still reeling from the size and unexpectedness of this astonishing gift.
I don’t know if you can relate to feeling unworthy. Many of us walk around hoping no-one discovers that we feel out of our depth—imposters in our work, families or relationships. We’ve all been damaged by life. Grief has worn us down. Disappointment and unmet expectations often make us cynical or feeling hopeless. And so, we don’t expect anything outside of normal, everyday drudgery. We try to find joy amidst the tough stuff. We spend time with our families or spend money on travelling, shopping or entertainment. All of it is in search of something that will last and make us feel enough.
God wants us to have a fuller life than that. In fact, He promises it. There is a well-known story in the Bible about a young man who asks his father for an early inheritance payout and leaves home to strike out on his own. He wants his independence; to try to tackle life on his own terms.
On the journey he’s chipped and damaged. He spends his money and time looking for fulfilment and satisfaction. He blows his money on gambling, stimulants, fast cars and fast women. (OK so they didn’t have cars in the Bible but use your imagination . . . chariots?).
After all his money runs out and all his party friends abandon him, he starts to feel how you or I might feel on some days of our lives. Unworthy, abandoned, alone. But it’s about to get worse. There is a food shortage in the land. He finds himself homeless. He begs from a local farmer and finds himself helping with the farmer’s pigs and sharing their food. He has hit absolute rock-bottom.
As he thinks about his life and choices, he remembers his father’s property and how even the workers are fed and cared for. He decides to go back and work for his dad. I bet he was rehearsing his speech over and over on his way home.
But Dad is waiting, looking down the long driveway. His son has been gone for months, even years, but this Father has always held out hope that one day he would return. And when He sees His son, He runs, undignified, arms and legs akimbo, to embrace him. The son is shocked. Speechless, he doesn’t feel worthy. But the Father bats away his apologies. “Nonsense, you are my son.” You are my son. He dresses him, roasts a fattened calf, organises a party and invites everyone to celebrate. Not everyone is happy about it. It seems unfair after what this young man had done, what he had wasted. But I’m not focusing on their story today. Either way, the Father doesn’t care. He wants to show His extravagant and costly love.
Jesus told this story to people who felt like the son, people who feel like you and me. They’d done things in their life they weren’t proud of. They were pretty good people, but they’d made mistakes, hurt others and been hurt back. Jesus wanted them all to know that the Father in the story represents God, who Jesus often called His Father. God wants to offer an extravagant gift to all of us. It’s called salvation.
I asked someone, “What comes to mind when I say the word salvation?”
“You want my honest answer?” they responded. “Of course,” I said.
“What is it?” they asked.
On any given weekend, in churches across the world, you will hear the word salvation.
It means to save. My father saved us from stress and a little discomfort with his extravagant gift. No payment was expected; he just felt joy to help us where we needed it.
The Father in Jesus’ story saves His son’s life with food, shelter and a home to come back to—even though he’d rejected it all and walked away from the One who had created him.
God wants to save us. But what do we have to do?
I had to accept. The son had to accept. All you must do is accept.
According to the story of the Bible, this world is filled with hurt, disease, death, grief and pain. It’s inescapable. But God wanted more for all people. So, He put in place a plan to rescue us from all those things. He sent Jesus as a man to live, share the human experience and show us that God is the Father in the story who is yearning for each of us to return to Him.
Ultimately, Jesus came to suffer and die at the hands of evil men, only to supernaturally overcome death and the grave to live again. Jesus promised that all who accept and believe could overcome death as well, through Him. Meanwhile, He helps us to find hope and healing in the middle of pain and heartache. I know Jesus has done that in my life.
Jarrod Stackelroth is editor of Signs of the Times Australia magazine and lives in Sydney, Australia, with his wife and toddler. A version of this article first appeared on the Signs of the Times Australia/New Zealand website and is republished with permission.