Yesterday morning, on Mother’s Day, I woke up thinking about Herta Schmidt. She is a minor character in the Gott Mit Uns Series, yet her role in The Prodigal Sons is significant. She is the grandmother of main character, Jakob Schmidt, as a result of her husband Bernhardt’s continual lengthy absences, the matriarch of the family.
To me she is a wonderful example of a godly woman who has devoted her life to helping those less fortunate. Yet she is not perfect, and that imperfection manifests itself in her broken relationship with her son, Ernst, Jakob’s father.
~Spoiler Alert for those who have not yet read The Prodigal Sons~
Now for the spoiler…
About halfway through the book she reveals that Ernst is not her biological son, but is the son of her husband’s mistress. As she raised him, it was difficult for her to love him the way she loved her other children all those years. It resulted in Ernst becoming a drunken, unlovable, violent man, and following in Bernhardt’s footsteps as an absentee father.
Honestly, I woke up admiring Herta because of the things she did right. Most of all, when Jakob was born, she stepped in and loved him as her own. This was just the kind of person she was. It was what she had tried to do for Ernst but could never accomplish, because he was a constant reminder of her husband’s betrayal. She could only be hurt and ashamed when she looked at him, and he knew it although he did not know why.
Herta’s pain was justifiable: her husband had an ongoing affair for decades. How is it possible that one person’s sin can have such far reaching effects? Yet it happens: Bernhardt cheated. Herta’s heart was broken. They both treated Ernst terribly. He became a “low-life,” making it that much easier for his parents to despise him. That trickled down to how Ernst treated Jakob, abandoning him and eventually abusing him.
From Jakob’s own eventual “fall,” it is clear that these things deeply affected him as well. Even though he was brought up by a devoted grandparent, he still felt the brunt of his father’s anger and pain.
But back to Herta. She was a godly woman, even with her faults. She sought to do right in everything else in her life, and finally, when she could bear it no more, she revealed the truth to Ernst and begged his forgiveness.
There are a lot of lessons one could take away from this all-too-real fictional family story. One that stands out to me is that reconciliation matters. Herta believed that. It matters that she genuinely sought forgiveness, acknowledging her sins against Ernst, even though he did not receive it at the time. Before God, she was absolved. She did not have to carry that guilt to the grave. None of us really know if we have tomorrow. That is why it was important that she did it when she knew it was time. After that, she chose to trust God and leave Ernst’s response in His hands.
Herta did not allow shame to prevent her from speaking, and she did not continue to use Bernhardt’s betrayal to escape her own guilt. I think that too is an important point and ties in well with my previous post, What Do We Do With Our Pain? In this devotional, originally posted on Devotionals for the Heart with author Alexis Goring, I contrast the different ways in which my characters respond to problems and what it has taught me.
Also, check out the link below for an interview with Herta Schmidt’s grandson Jakob, the main protagonist in The Prodigal Sons and my upcoming November release, The Rubicon.