After being unceremoniously dumped on the old man by her Aunt Dete, Heidi begins an idyllic life with grandfather, the goats, and Peter the goatherd. Through her natural goodness she melts grandfather's heart. He eventually overcomes his hostility to the villagers and gradually renews old friendships, particularly with Peter's grandmother.
One day Aunt Dete unexpectedly takes Heidi to Frankfurt as a companion to the invalid child, Clara. Heidi has lessons with Clara and learns to read with the help of Clara's grandmother but suffers under the rule of the housekeeper Fraulein Rottenmeier. Away from the freedom of the mountains, Heidi becomes ill and is seen sleepwalking. At first the servants and Fraulein Rottenmeier take her for a ghost. Eventually the kindly doctor makes a correct diagnosis, and Heidi returns to grandfather. Clara visits Heidi, and when Peter pushes her wheelchair over the mountain in a fit of jealousy, Clara learns to walk again to the astonishment of her grandmother and father. With the exception of Fraulein Rottenmeier, everyone who comes into contact with Heidi is transformed in some way in this classic book.
Brenda Wagonner's wonderful book, Storybook Mentors...Grown-up Wisdom From Children's Classics, says this about the story:
Young children often have the ability to forgive quickly, eagerly restoring an adult to the former place of favor following an offense. Also, kids don't appear to get hung up concentrating on their own sins. Perhaps their ability to freely give and receive grace is a part of a child's innocence relatively speaking at least. As Heidi recalled the days in Frankfurt when she gave up on God and stopped saying her prayers, she realized she didn't really deserve to return to Him with no questions asked. Yet when she was ready to go back to Him, she didn't waste any time worrying about rejection.
By the time we've grown into adults, many of us have lost the freedom to eagerly offer grace to others. Likewise, as we gain life experience, we may have difficulty being on the receiving end of unmerited favor. Like the grandfather, it is difficult for any of us to believe God would actually want us back when we have forsaken him.
Do you long to respond to God as Heidi did, eagerly returning to Him after you've spent some time away or turned your back on Him? Do you yearn to accept the grace of God? In the Gospels, the disciple John is called 'the one Jesus loved.' If John were to be asked, "What is your primary identity in life?" He would not reply, "I am a disciple, an apostle, and evangelist, and author of one of the four Gospels," but rather, "I am the one Jesus loves."
Do you know that you are the one Jesus loves? Or do you find yourself holding back from God, turning away from Him because you feel you don't deserve His love anymore? We find accounts of God's unconditional love scattered throughout the Bible, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Often, however, and sometimes unaware, we can magnify the part about God's anger when we go away from Him, and think it means He doesn't want us back, or that He is still angry and doesn't love us anymore.
Nestled in the midst of the story of Heidi, we come upon the touching scene many of us may need to revisit as adults, when the child tells the grandfather about the grace of God. Sitting next to the old man, with book in hand, Heidi read the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. When she came to the place in the story where the son wanted to return to the father, Heidi paused and asked the grandfather, "What do you think happens now?" Do you think the father is still angry and will say to him 'I told you so!' The old man sat silently, trance like, gazing at the pictures in Heidi's book. Then she pushed the book gently in front of him and said, "See how happy he is there?" Pointing with her finger to the returned prodigal son, all dressed up in fresh, clean clothes, and standing beside his father. Heidi's story gently reawakened thoughts and feelings the grandfather had long since put to rest.
In the book of Hosea we find another touching account of God's unconditional love. Hosea's love for Gomer, his unfaithful wife, vividly pictures God's love for Israel, His chosen but unfaithful people. Hosea reveals to us the heart of God. How He suffers when we go away from Him, but He never stopped wooing us back, longing for our return.
" My people are determined to turn from me," God said. Then listen to his beautiful heart cry for the return of his beloved in chapter 11. "How can I give up? How can I hand you over? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused, and I will not carry out my fierce anger. I will not come in wrath."
Are afraid God is mad at you, or is punishing you for your mistakes? Under the old covenant there is no forgiveness for those who remain sinners: the sinner faces judgment. But the God of Jesus does not judge us, for He loves even those who are evil. In a word, the Father of Jesus loves sinners. He is the only God man has ever heard of who behaves this way. Unreal gods, the inventions of men, despise sinners. But the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do. And this, of course, is almost too incredible for us to accept.
As Heidi says, "We can go back!" We don't deserve God's love. No matter how hard we try to be good, we can never earn his love. That's what grace is...unmerited favor. It's a gift, especially for those of us who don't deserve it. And no matter how many times we run away, or how far away we go, we can always go back. When we do, we will always find a loving Father with open arms waiting for us, longing with all his heart for our return.
I love the story of Heidi, whether it is the movie or book. I would recommend Brenda Waggoner's book, Storybook Mentors. It's a lovely book of children's classics with her added touches of inspiration.She is a licensed counselor practicing in Greenville, Texas, who enjoys music, dancing, and great stories. She is also the author of The Velveteen Woman.