For a little less than two weeks I have had the indescribable joy of being with my family again. South Australia opened its borders to NSW, and I was on the first flight I could book and heading across to reunite with my children and parents. For a while I didn’t think I would let my children go when I embraced them. The longing in my heart was so deep and had hungered for so very many months. I can truly say I have savoured every moment in their presence in this time we have spent with them.
I also acknowledge that whilst holding onto my children, my heart also whispered a prayer for those parents still separated from their children, siblings from one another, and grandparents who have not been able to meet their grandchildren born during this time of pandemic. Whilst I had coffee with some people I have journeyed through life and ministry with for over twenty years, I ached a little for friends who are still not able to catch up. I recognise the privilege of being able to do just what I did — jump on a plane and head to another destination to be embraced by people whom I deeply love. I really, really hope and pray your time is coming soon if you also find yourself separated from those whom you love.
The importance of family and connection seems to often be taken for granted. In fact, to be honest, I probably only realise how important it is when I cannot connect in the way I normally would expect. I don’t know when I will be able to return to see my children. I am literally writing this as the plane is taking off to return me to Sydney. If the borders close again, my sense of connection with my children will again be challenged and stretched. Even though we live in an age of technology where we can see each other on a screen at a moment’s notice, and share bits of news via a text message, it is never the same as being able to hold each other, to sit together and share life as we share a meal.
I am also finding myself reflecting on “coming home” to Sydney, to the life we have there, the friends who have become like a part of my family and whom I have found myself missing in ways that have surprised me. Again, the wonders of technology have meant that I could continue working much the same as I have been doing for the last seven months, yet it felt a little strange to be ‘so far away!’ Returning home, there is a connection through my serving God and God’s people that brings a new indescribable joy. I am deeply grateful for the relationships that have developed and continue to grow.
Recently, finding myself in need of quickly preparing a devotion for a meeting I was attending via Zoom, I turned to a reflection I had on file. It focused on the story of the Prodigal. In particular, it focused on the end of the story when the son who had been lost found his way home to the father. After a long time and a deeply painful rejection, the father in the story Jesus told was still watching and waiting for his son to return. Why? Why did he not give up? Why did he not reject his son when his son rejected him? I think it was because the father knew that his life wasn’t complete unless he could share it with his son who was beloved. There is a human need for connection and relationship, a need that is born out of being created in the image of God — embodied in the Trinitarian relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Like so many stories that Jesus told, the more we pause and reflect on them, the more layers of meaning we find in them. As I was growing up, I got so used to ‘finding myself’ in the place of the lost son in the story, and hoping against hope that God was waiting for me whenever I returned. I then learnt that maybe I’m more like the older brother at times, resenting the welcome the younger sibling receives when he returns home. Even more recently I’ve learned to relate with the father, extending that welcome to a ‘wayward child,’ and trying to encourage another child to rejoice in the return of the one who was lost. Today I find myself drawing comfort and hope, as well as challenge and perhaps even rebuke, that in its entirety, it is a story all about relationship and connection: the father is not ‘whole’ whilst his family is separated. And it was not the distance that separated them, rather it was the brokenness of relationship. Most of all I want to learn from the father that the importance and vitality of relationship matters more than my own petty hurts. I want to model that level of grace and inclusion and welcome to all of God’s children. I won’t always get it right, I am sure, but I promise to try and do better each time I fail. My life is not complete without you — our lives are not complete without each other.
And here is the paradox... God is not complete without us either.
I continue to pray that you will be able to connect with those whom you love in ways that bring you indescribable joy. I continue to pray that you will connect with God who loves you and in whom we find the fullest expression of joy.
Blessings and peace,
Jenny will be on leave for the next three weeks. There will be a break before the next pastoral letter is distributed.