“Hatred stirs up strife,
but love covers all offenses.”
“The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water,
but a man of understanding will draw it out.”
Glancing up at the clock on his office wall, The Man realized it was a quarter ’til seven. He had been so engrossed in his work that he had not even realized the time! He remembered his paralegal, Tiffany, poking her head in his office at five to let him know she was leaving for the day. He’d told her he would lock up, as he had a little more work to complete before he called it a day. He had gotten so consumed with this new case that he didn’t even notice his rumbling stomach or the setting sun casting it’s warm rays through his window.
He began to shut things down for the night, and as he did, he took a moment to look around his small office with gratitude and pride. In the past, his pride was a consuming, selfish pride…one that drove his deceptive lifestyle and fed his sinful habits. But now, six years into his new life as a Christ-follower, The Man’s pride did not rest in who he was, but in who Jesus was, and in all Christ had done to radically change his life for the better. All that was before him was a testimony to the redeeming power of Jesus Christ.
Of course, his new life as a Christ-follower wasn’t always easy, especially in the beginning. The Man remembered that painful season after the train accident, in which his newfound faith meant an end to certain lifestyle habits, several friendships, and even his job as a defense attorney at Maxwell and Monohan. He grieved that so many he had once called “friends” rejected the radical change in his life and ended their friendships so quickly. Some had even accused him of being “holier than thou.” While he knew their words came from a place of guilt for their own life choices, he hurt from their accusations, nonetheless.
No, it certainly wasn’t smooth in the beginning. Even with his many extensive physical injuries, The Man stood by his claim that the emotional and spiritual turmoil after the accident far exceeded even his worst moments of physical pain. While receiving the forgiveness of Christ was an indescribable experience, putting his life back together was another story entirely. Only with the strength of the Lord had he been able to face each day.
Leaving Maxwell and Monohan had been, in many ways, a humiliating process, but it was also incredibly freeing. Thankfully, The Man had enough money in the bank that he was able to take a season off from work. Through the wise counsel of Pastor Greg, he'd enrolled in some classes at the local seminary to help him learn more about the Lord and to figure out exactly what his “next steps” would be. He also became involved in the men’s ministry at his church, and it was in this group of men that he met Ricky Carter.
Ricky and his wife Carol were foster parents. The Man, in all his selfishness, had never even considered the plight of the orphan. Heck, he hadn’t even considered the needs of his own biological son! But in meeting their family and in seeing them continuously sacrifice for and love on these children, The Man found his great desire to be involved, to do something. While he didn’t feel particularly called to be a foster parent, he did know one way he could help. Opening his own law firm, The Man ventured into the world of family law. And while he took many different types of clients, his favorite clients were the pro bono foster children that he represented.
As he finished locking up the office, The Man walked toward his Benz, ready to get home. He had gotten rid of much extravagance over the years, but he never did part with this car. In the past, he would have traded this Mercedes in for a newer model by now, but since the Benz was paid in full, he decided to keep it. More importantly, Zach always enjoyed riding around town with the top down. If this was the one thing that he and Zach had in common, The Man would keep it until the wheels were falling off!
His cell phone buzzed in the middle console just as he was turning in the direction of his home. It was Meg. He had no idea why she would be calling him at this time of night, and his mind immediately went to Zach.
“What’s going on, Meg?” he answered quickly.
She didn’t waste any time but got right down to business. He could tell she was very upset. “It’s Zach…he’s in trouble. He was caught shoplifting at the the Mini-Mart! I’m almost there now. Can you meet us?”
The Man immediately slammed on his breaks and veered his car in the opposite direction. He was thankful no other cars were around him!
“I can’t believe him! What was he thinking?” The Man said angrily.
“He doesn’t need you to be upset,” Meg said quickly, defensively. “He knows what he did was wrong. We just need your help with any legal problems. Please,” she pleaded with him.
“It will take me 20 minutes or so, but I’ll be there as quickly as possible,” he replied, and they ended the call. The Man fumed as he made his way to the store. How could my own son make such a foolish decision? Shoplifting? His dad is an attorney!
Making his way to the store on the other side of town, The Man thought through his very complicated relationship with Zach. Despite his best efforts, their relationship had always been complicated and forced. He’d never known exactly how to make things up to Zach, so he did what he knew best — he bought him things. Nice things. Expensive things.
A toy bear dangled from his rearview mirror, reminding him of the night he and Zach had won it playing video games. This was years ago, and it was probably the most fun they'd ever had together. But even though they had sometimes connected on superficial levers, there never had been a true connection of the heart.
He’d always felt that gentle nagging in his spirit to broach the subject of his absence, to listen to Zach’s hurt, but he always shrank back from that conversation. Of the many foolish choices he’d made in life, abandoning his son was the one thing The Man still felt so much shame over. He didn’t know if he could ever forgive himself, even knowing that the Lord had forgiven him. And if he couldn’t forgive himself, he feared that Zach might never be able to forgive him.
As he pulled into the store’s parking lot, he spied the lights of a police car and inwardly groaned. They have already called the police! The Man sped to a parking spot and hurried into the store. The clerk looked up as he blasted through the entryway. Without saying a word, she pointed to the back of the store where the break room was located.
“Don’t say anything else, Zach,” The Man said as he flew into the room. Zach sat at a round table with Meg, her husband John, the police officer, and the store owner, Mr. Stevenson. Zach’s face was red from crying. Everyone looked up at The Man, startled by his declaration.
“There’s no need to lawyer up,” the police officer said calmly, raising his hands toward The Man. “Mr. Stevenson has already indicated that he’s not going to press charges.”
“Ah, ok,” replied The Man, trying to shift gears but still driven by his adrenaline. He couldn’t help but feel so angry at Zach for putting them all in this awkward position. “Are you sure you don’t want to handcuff him just to teach him a lesson?” The Man remarked sarcastically.
The officer looked at him, surprised, and replied, “Zach has been incredibly remorseful for what he did. He has even agreed to volunteer a few Saturday mornings in the store to make restitution. We were just getting ready to put it in writing.”
“Alright then, let me help you write this out to make sure it’s all legally accurate.” As he pulled up his chair, The Man looked into Zach’s eyes and could see embarrassment clouding his face. Is he really embarrassed by me? Does he have a right to be embarrassed? After all, we are all here because of his mistake!
As they worked through the document, The Man insisted they include all sorts of legal language. By the time he was finished inserting his legalese, Zach’s face showed less and less remorse and more and more anger. Finally, The Man slid the papers over for everyone to sign, addressing Zach first. “Alright, son, sign away.”
“Don’t call me ‘son.’ You’re not my dad,” Zach curtly replied, grabbing a pen and scribbling his name down illegibly. His words were like a punch to the gut, and The Man immediately felt hurt by his son’s retort. Throwing salt on the wound, Zach turned to John and slid the papers in his direction. “Alright, dad, your turn.” It was impossible for The Man to miss this additional jab.
After everyone signed the document, Mr. Stevenson made copies for each of the parties. He shook hands with everyone. He then turned his attention to Zach.
“Listen, Zach. I made many foolish choices in my youth, and I was headed down a path of destruction. But one man in my neighborhood helped me to turn my life around. I had thrown rocks at his window, and he caught me in the act. I was terrified of the consequences, but I was also so angry. I didn’t have a father growing up, and my mom worked long hours at a diner to provide for us. Mr. Jansen was gracious to me, even in my rudeness and rebellion. He could have pressed charges, but instead, he made a deal with me. If I met with him every Saturday morning for a month and allowed him to read the Bible to me, he would forgive what happened and repair the damages himself. Mr. Jansen’s kindness changed my life. He showed me the Truth of the gospel, and he introduced me to Jesus. I’ve never been the same.” Mr. Stevenson smiled warmly, and his words were like a healing balm over Zach’s earlier embarrassing and foolish actions.
Listening to Mr. Stevenson’s words humbled The Man, reminding him of the same grace the Lord had shown him. Since his life had changed because of Christ, he had wanted to share the gospel with Meg, John, and Zach, yet they’d continuously rejected his efforts. But here, in one powerful and compelling act of grace, this store owner had demonstrated the power of the gospel to his family in a tangible way. The Man realized he’d allowed his own anger and embarrassment to drive his response tonight. Instead of offering grace and forgiveness to his son, he had humiliated him in front of others.
More importantly, The Man realized there were issues between he and Zach that he’d put off for long enough. It was time to really talk.
Walking to the front of the store, The Man intercepted Meg and John, puling them aside quietly. “I’d like to give Zach a ride home. I think he and I need to talk through some things.”
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” Meg said, still defensive of Zach after the way The Man had handled the situation earlier.
“Meg, please. I’m so sorry for how I handled myself earlier. I was worried for Zach and also very embarrassed. But I need to apologize to Zach. I need to explain to him how I feel about him. We have some deep-seated issues that have grown between us because of my absence in the first twelve years of his life.”
Meg looked to John, who silently nodded his approval. She then addressed Zach privately. The Man watched as Zach resisted Meg’s words. A senior in high school and turning 18 in just a few months, Zach was quickly budding into manhood. Soon, he wouldn’t have to submit to Meg’s requests of him. The Man knew he could lose Zach forever once he graduated high school. Nothing terrified him more.
As they loaded into the Benz, The Man put the top down and cranked the car. They both were quiet as the motor purred to life. For a while, they drove in silence, and The Man prayed desperately that God would guide their conversation. Finally, he spoke.
“Zach, listen…I’m so sorry for how I behaved back there.” He looked over to Zach, who looked forward with a stone-cold expression on his face. Please, Lord. Help my words to penetrate his heart. “I allowed my own humiliation over what you did to control my actions. I was afraid for you, too, but I shouldn’t have embarrassed you. I’m sorry.”
Still, Zach’s expression did not change.
The Man turned left onto the turnpike, deciding he’d drive them around town for a while. He wanted to postpone taking Zach home as long as possible.
“There’s something else we need to talk about,” The Man said, pushing past the feelings of fear and shame as he broached the subject he’d avoided for so long. “I know you still hurt from my rejection and absence in your childhood.”
Zach winced at The Man’s words, and he knew that now he was hitting on the real issue. “We never have really talked about it…it’s been easier to just pretend it didn’t happen. But Zach, not a day goes by that I don’t think about and regret my foolish and selfish choices.” The Man’s voice cracked as he spoke now. This was his greatest shame in life. “I want to know you, to be involved in your life, but I realize now I can’t just push my way in or even buy your affection. It’s up to you…you have to let me in.”
The Man continued their drive, slowly twisting and turning on the winding roads around town. He prayed fervently in his spirit, knowing that none of his words would ever change Zach. That was the Holy Spirit’s job.
Finally, after a long period of silence, Zach spoke for the first time since they’d begun this drive. His arms were crossed on his chest as he spoke. “Sometimes, I think it would have been better for me to be a foster child. Then you might have cared for me and even been proud of me.”
Pulling over to the side of the road, The Man turned to look Zach in the eyes. Tears fell freely now as he spoke from his heart to his son. “I love you, son, and even if you never come to see me as a father, I want you to know that I will always love you and be proud of you. That is the truth.”
Zach squeezed his eyes together, and The Man watched as his son tried to hold in a barrage of tears. The Man knew the words he needed to speak. He didn’t know how Zach would respond, but he knew he needed to go deeper. “Zach, what you did tonight was wrong. We all know it. But what I did for years, shirking my responsibility as your biological dad and rejecting you and your mom, that was wrong, too. I’m not even sure I could ever make it up to you. But Zach, I am so deeply sorry. If I could carry all the pain that you’ve carried your entire life because of me, I would in a heartbeat. I don’t expect the heartache to go away, but I’m asking you to forgive me.”
He watched as tears now poured down Zach’s face, and as he finished speaking, deep, gut-wrenching sobs escaped from Zach’s mouth. He bent over in pain as he wept. The Man wept, too, and timidly, he reached over to wrap his arm around Zach’s bent shoulders. He expected Zach to recoil at his touch, but instead, Zach received The Man’s tender embrace.
They cried together tears of brokenness and reconciliation. And once the deep well of hurt and rejection had run dry, they talked for hours. Supernatural healing took place, and on that night, a new relationship was born. Father and son, at last.