Yes – another movie and yes, another Tom Hanks movie. If you’ll indulge me yet again, I will make a promise to you that I will not ever use Joe vs. the Volcano or Turner and Hooch.
2002’s Catch Me If You Can is a loose adaptation of a true about story about Frank Abagnale, Jr. The product of a broken home, Frank became an incredibly skilled con man. By the time he was 21 years old, he had stolen millions of dollars from banks and companies in 26 countries, posing as an airline pilot, lawyer, a doctor, and other occupations. Abagnale, played by Leonardo Dicaprio, is pursued throughout the movie by Hanks’s character; FBI agent Carl Hanratty. Hanratty is a no-nonsense agent whose singular passion is catching criminals guilty of fraud. What he lacks in glamour and glitz, he makes up for in tenacity. He simply will not back down in his pursuit of Abagnale. The movie shows several wins and losses for both characters, until Abagnale is finally apprehended in France, extradited to the United States, and imprisoned for several years before Hanratty does something peculiar.
Recognizing Abagnale’s skill at detecting a forged check, Hanratty petitions the FBI to release Abagnale, allowing him to serve his sentence helping the FBI catch other check hangers, turning one of the world’s most gifted thieves into a gifted crime fighter. Abagnale accepts the offer, but with his freedom in place and a uncertain future hanging over him, Frank decides to return back to the one thing he was good at – running away. Dressed in a Pan Am pilot’s suit, he prepares to board a plane when he is stopped by Hanratty. They talk about Hanratty’s life and a few other points before the conversation ends with the following exchange:
Carl Hanratty: I’m going to let you fly tonight, Frank. I’m not even going to try to stop you. That’s because I know you’ll be back on Monday.
Frank Abagnale, Jr.: Yeah? How do you know I’ll come back?
Carl Hanratty: Frank, look. Nobody’s chasing you.
Running away is all about the chase. There’s no point in running if there’s nobody left behind to miss you enough to come after you. Why do we run? The most common, most obvious reason for running away is to avoid the consequences of something we’ve done, or to avoid a difficult thing that we need to do. In the movie, Frank’s character demonstrated both. Obviously, he was running to avoid prison. But he was also running away from taking hold of his life even though he was feeling terribly hurt and confused.
Frank idolized his parents, but within a short time he came to learn that his father was a combination of big time talker and small time swindler, and his mother was having an affair. Unable to cope with the trauma of his home, he ran. Unable to afford his escape, he stole. Because he stole he had to keep running. Because he kept running he had to keep stealing, and so the vicious cycle continued. Several times he looked for an escape. He met a girl he truly cared for, but ultimately had to run away from her before his past caught up with him. He also would call and talk to Hanratty while he was on the lamb. Now I’ve never stolen millions of dollars, so I can’t offer personal advice, but I would think calling the FBI agent who’s trying to capture you is a pretty stupid thing to do. Why did he do it? I think it was because he knew deep down that he couldn’t run forever – and in fact he didn’t want to. He wanted to be loved. He wanted to get his life back. He wanted something more. But because of his criminal activities and by running away, he was left with only one person in the whole world to whom his existence even mattered – the man who was chasing him, Carl Hanratty.
So on that night when he considered starting the game again, Carl’s promise not to chase Frank was the most eye-opening, and loving thing he could have heard him say. Carl wasn’t blowing him off. He cared about this young man. He wanted to see him turn his life around and have a bright future. But he knew that it was time for Frank to realize that his lifestyle of running away needed to change. Carl did all that he could for him: released him from prison, landed him a good job, set him on course to live a normal life. Carl even offered him friendship. All Frank needed to do was realize that to find the good things he had been given, he needed to first find the courage to stay; to know that despite his past, his fears, and his feelings of unworthiness, good things awaited him. But to gain them, Frank needed to stop running away.
How often do we find ourselves looking to run? Maybe not physically packing up the car and driving away where no one can find you, but have you ever run away by immersing yourself in work or by avoiding people who make you uncomfortable about yourself? Maybe you run to a bottle, a needle, or a bedroom? Or perhaps you do your running in a tight circle, building walls designed to keep the rest of the world away? Is this part of God’s plan for us? Was God pleased to find Adam and Eve cowering in the bushes? Did God want Elijah to go hide in a cave? Was it God’s goal to turn Jonah into bait? Certainly not. But isn’t it reassuring to know that in each of these situations, once they stopped running and turned to face their calling or their circumstance, God stepped up and gave them what they needed to achieve success and abundance? Consider the story in John 6:60-72. After delivering a difficult lesson, many of those who had been following Jesus ran away. When He asked the twelve why they didn’t leave, it was Peter who spoke up: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).
There is nowhere we can go, no place we can hide that will meet our needs better than the outstretched arms of God. In His strength, we can face the things from which we’ve fled in the past. Through Him we will have not only the desires of our heart, but he will provide blessings beyond anything we could have ever dreamt possible. Catch Him – He’s made it so you can.