“I want to run away from here!”
Even though I was a first-time mom, I knew that most children go through a “running away from home” phase. I may have been knowledgeable, but I was not at all prepared for the moment. I felt so betrayed by the child I’d loved and cared for so sacrificially. I clung to the knowledge that she did not mean it, that testing boundaries is a normal part of a child’s emotional development.
And yet I wanted to cry.
I wanted to ask her what her dad and I had done wrong as parents and vow to do better. I wanted to beg my preschooler’s forgiveness for “mean” things I’d done in the past or would do in the future.
Fortunately, I did not give in to these desires. Instead, I calmly began helping her plan her exodus.
“If you want to run away, I suppose the first thing you have to decide is where you’re going to go.”
She was incredulous, but also stubborn. “I will go to grandma’s house.”
I expected this response since Grandma lived a few streets away. It was evening and dark outside, so I posed a logistical question. “Okay, that’s probably a good place to go. So, have you thought about how you are going to get there?”
This seemed like an odd question to her. “You’re going to have to take me, of course.”
I knew my next revelation would throw her. “Well, that’s not really how it works. I do not wish for you to run away, so I’m not going to take you. If it is your desire to run away, you have to do it on your own.”
She immediately started to panic. “But it’s dark outside!”
I stayed steady. “Yes, it is.”
She couldn’t believe what was happening. “Will you at least give me a flashlight???”
I decided to shift course and seal the deal on this little exercise. “We’ll figure that out in a minute. First, I guess you need to pack a bag. You can get my suitcase out of the closet. Be sure to pack a toothbrush and toothpaste and enough underwear for how long you’re planning on being away.”
While I was talking, she took exactly two steps in the direction of the closet before she crumpled on the floor and started sobbing uncontrollably.
“I-I-I-I-I would miss you so-o-o-o-o-o much. I don’t wa-a-ant to leave.” (Sob, sniff, sob, sniff)
My husband, who had been silent during the exchange (and trying not to laugh), let her off the hook. “Bailey…..good news. You don’t have to go!! This is your home and this is where you belong.”
What I remember most about this incident is how visibly relieved she was to hear the news that she didn’t have to carry out her ill-conceived plan. We loved her and welcomed her back the second she saw the error of her ways. Since that time, we have talked with her about our deep desire for her to understand that, regardless of what life has in store for her, there’s no place like home and she can always come back.
I can’t help but think about the parallel to the Parable of the Prodigal Son, where a homecoming is used to illustrate how God wants us to come back to Him when we’ve gone off course. In the story, a man has two sons. The younger son asks his father for his inheritance so that he can experience all that the world has to offer. He quickly spends all of his money, gets involved in immoral activity, and finds himself in dire circumstances. He has fallen from grace and does not know how to make things right. He eventually returns to his father, admits his foolishness, and asks for forgiveness and mercy.
The father receives his son back with open arms of compassion and many gifts of the land. He is overjoyed by the return of his lost son and prepares a giant feast. The older son is angry and does not understand why the father is celebrating the wayward son’s return instead of celebrating the older son’s continued faithfulness. The father explains, “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It is proper that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive again; was lost, and is found.”
What a wonderful story of God’s forgiveness and acceptance. Like the father waited patiently for his precious son to come to his senses and return home where he belonged, God is always waiting with loving compassion to restore us when we return to Him with humble hearts. He offers us everything in his kingdom without dwelling on our past waywardness. He simply wants us to come home.
We all go through seasons in our spiritual walk and most of us have run away from God at one time or another. Perhaps you’ve essentially said to God, “You’re mean. I’m running away from here!” Maybe you desperately want to go home again to the faith you once held so close, but feel the road back is too long and complicated. Maybe you worry that God dismissed you the moment you fled and is no longer concerned with your problems. Maybe you are simply stuck in a negative place in your life and don’t feel worthy of God’s unconditional acceptance.
I am not a Bible scholar, but I do know this and want you to know it as well: You can ALWAYS go home again. Even more, there are no rules about when or how. There are no perfect conditions or appropriate words to say. Even when you feel you’re a million miles away from God, it is a mere one step back. I realize this is not logical and defies the laws of the time/space continuum. And yet, this is the truest and most encouraging statement I can make. What freedom there is in those words!
No matter where you are in life, God is waiting patiently for you to call upon His name. You need not worry about what comes next or how to get your ducks in a row. If you take the first step, He has the rest covered. It’s as simple as that.
I leave you with the last stanza of one of my favorite hymns that so beautifully describes how God welcomes us all home just as we are.
Just as I am—Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come!