In order to come home, one must first go away. Too obvious? Maybe. But if I am being honest, I tend to focus more on the “coming home” stage of my life than the one “away”. Yet, I believe that in order to really get the beauty of coming home, you have to know what it was like to go away. So let me start from the beginning – going away. Well, let’s start with the decision to go away, the first step.
It has taken me sometime to understand how it all happened; how I got where I am; where God was in all of it, His role and my role, and why it happened. Many of the questions remain unanswered, at least in full or to my complete satisfaction. Yet, the mystery contributes greatly to the grace in my life because it reminds me how small I am in the scheme of God’s big plan. But I am thinking either you, or someone you love dearly, can relate to the “going away” part of my story.
We all have a “going away” or a “leaving” part of our story, it lies somewhere in the story we have to tell (whether we talk about it or not). Some are still “away”, others get what it means to “come back”, and maybe for some this part of the story is yet to come.
Quick review: I grew up in south jersey, raised in a Presbyterian church, went to a small high school, surrounded by farms (and a rodeo) – all of this with two loving parents, two incredible sisters, and a number of amazing friends. I was a straight A student, Varsity athlete, Girl Scout, youth group attender, peer leader, part of the Drama Club, Babysitter, Lifeguard – – you name it I did it . . . and I did it well most likely. I was “that” girl in high school. The homecoming and prom courts were filled with my best friends, or those I played a sport with . . . things were good. Bottom line: I had a great (and pretty easy) life.
In high school my Christian faith sprouted through participation in the youth group of neighboring town’s Baptist Church. Sunday night, a bunch of my closest friends and I did the youth group thing. We did the winter retreats, some were baptized, and we even invited friends to be part of it. I think it is safe to say that, at least for grades 10-12, Jesus was at the center of my life. Enough so that Senior year I resolved to attend a Christian College.
I lasted one semester (this is a story for another blog entry).
By Spring semester of my freshman year I had transferred to (JMU) James Madison University. This was my official send -off, into a long anticipated journey “away from home”. You see, I got a taste of supposed “freedom” after graduating High School in June. No longer an official athlete or committed Peer Leader, I felt the need to experiment with what so many teens had done for years. Why not (I thought)? It seems to be working so well for everyone else. They all seem so happy living the party lifestyle.
So I made my own choices that summer after graduating. It was normal. Wasn’t it? It broke down barriers between me and my non-Christian friends (who had been begging me to join in for years). I was simply doing what everyone else around me was doing. I was making my own choices and putting God aside. I was doing what I wanted. I was being normal.
I very clearly remember saying something like this to God when I left Messiah to go to JMU, “I’m gonna do my own thing for awhile. I just don’t feel like including you in my decision-making anymore. I want to live for myself. I’ll be back.”
I’m going away, I’ll be back.
I’m going to spend my inheritance. I am choosing the world, over you – but you’re cool with that, right God? Right, Father? I mean it’s just something people do. It’s normal. And remember, I will be back . . . . . . . . . maybe.
So off I went, with my inheritance in hand, to live as the world lives. To get my moral compass from the world, to live by its standards, and do what is deemed appropriate.
It helps here to pay attention to the very beginning of the parable of The Lost Son. This comes immediately after two parables about lost items, a coin and a sheep. But with the parable of The Lost Son, Jesus goes a little deeper and speaks into a more specific situation. He speaks to the one who leaves home, the one the Father lets go. This story speaks to the one who started at home with his father, journeyed away, and then at the end, returns home. I find it important to note that it is the father who gives the son all he needs to go – his inheritance.
13 “Not lon
g after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.
The father (God) let his son go, he gave him his inheritance. It doesn’t say, but I think it’s safe to assume, that the father didn’t think it was wise or that it would work out for the son, but he let him go. He gave him exactly what he asked for, what he thought he wanted. He let him make his own mistake. A big one. A costly one. A life changing one.
We never see the father try to talk him out of it, or change his mind, or even give him advice about what he should do with his inheritance. Not this father. Maybe some, but not the father of this son.
What does this say about how God interacts with us, how God loves us?
One thing it says to me is that God knew better than I did. Maybe he knew the only way for me to really get who the Father is, and who I am as his daughter, was to let me go. I had to see for myself that the freedom I so desperately sought after was found in Jesus, not in the world.
I had to spend years in “the world” trying to fill an emptiness in me that God alone could fill. I needed to experience the harshness of life without God in order to really grasp the depth of His grace. I had to attempt to flee his presence in order to know the true peace found in His midst.
And for me, of course, it had to be a first-hand experience. I couldn’t learn these truths any other way . . . than to go through them. Personally. Painfully. Permanently.
I have no idea. God does. Maybe he will tell me one day, or maybe one day my desire to know won’t be so important (it is already fading quite a bit). Questions remain somewhat, but being back in the arms of the Father has a way of silencing them.
And here lies the first part of the story: the decision to leave, to go away, to spend my inheritance out in the world – far away from the safety of the Father.
EXCEPT, as it turns out he was never all that far away.