To have a heart that loves is to have a heart that aches.
One of the great stories about aching hearts involves a prodigal son. It’s a story about love and heartache — which means it’s a story about all of our lives.
When the son returns home from spending his father’s money so recklessly and completely, he gets a totally unexpected response. Instead of being shunned or judged, he’s welcomed back with a tearful hug and a rowdy party.
A hug and a party? How could this be?
It’s what happens when someone loves you so much that their heart aches.
The story says that the father saw his returning son from a long way off. Of course he did! Every day since his son had left, he must have scanned the horizon over and over, narrowing his eyes, squinting to see that one, familiar silhouette heading his way.
He ached to touch him. To hold him one more time. To hug him again.
And one day, there he is! The father abandons any sense of propriety. He doesn’t follow the protocols of his religion or his society — you simply don’t welcome back a son like that one, you know.
Judgment? Indignation? Punishment? None of that is in the father‘s heart.
At that moment, his heart aches only with joy.
And he doesn’t hold back or try to hide it. Wait for the son to come to him? Let him grovel a little bit? No time for that! He runs to his son. Grabs him. Envelops him in a tight, teary hug. Kisses his forehead and his cheek. Hugs him again. Cries a little more.
A person whom he loves so completely is back in his arms. That’s all that matters.
That’s why he wants to celebrate.
Of course, the father in the story is meant to represent God. A God whose heart loves us and loves with us. A God whose heart aches for us and with us.
A God who knows that an aching heart is a sign of love.
Parents know all about it. They feel that deep ache when their child is teething and they wish they could do something to ease their pain as they try to rock them to sleep at 3 a.m. They feel it years later when their child falls and scrapes a knee and needs a bandage and a hug. They feel it all over again when their child is rejected or fails to achieve some cherished goal and winds up heartbroken.
In those moments, their own hearts ache, too.
That’s true of love, isn’t it? When your heart aches for someone, that’s one of the sure signs that you love them. When you find someone who wants to enter into your heart and ache along with it, you’ve found love.
A love that just wants to hug you and hold you and spill a few tears with you. And party with you, too.
Because love must always be celebrated.