How the Weary Travel Home

The distance between ourselves and God is never as great as we think.

Not long ago, I received a message out of the blue from an old friend after years of silence. Eighteen, to be exact, since we had last laid eyes on each other or spoken. I confess it took me more than a minute to recall who this person was. So I searched her name online and finally—a photo of her with her husband and children. Nearly two decades reversed and I was once again a student squinting through the autumn sun at her blue eyes. The journey backward resurrected all kinds of voices and faces, and it set me to thinking about what friendship becomes in time’s churning. About all the people I have forgotten and what, if anything, they remember of me.

 

It reminds me of a recent lunch I had with another old friend, someone I had been much closer to when were both younger men and newly married. We sat at the restaurant counter with little to say—as if we had become strangers. I drove away with a subtle ache, a pang of grief at the loss of communion.

The more painful realization, from my reflecting on all of this, is to note the similar effect long silences have on my friendship with God. At this point, I’ve lost count of the recurrences in my life of growing distant from Christ, so that when I “see” Him again, it feels as though perhaps the closeness I once experienced was misremembered, or distorted—as if memory were a house of mirrors. Of course, in those seasons, the distance I perceived was merely my own delusion. God is always near—it’s only that I am no longer near to Him. But why should that be the case?

Dr. Stanley gives some insight in his devotional Jesus, Our Perfect Hope:

The Savior always welcomes you into His presence, regardless of how you’re feeling or what mistakes you’ve made. Always. Unfortunately, the emotions of embarrassment, fear, and failure can keep you from realizing this, which is one of the reasons the evil one will tempt you to sin. The devil knows that if he can get you to rebel against the Lord, you’ll feel so guilty about it that you’ll avoid His presence altogether. The more the enemy can get you to focus on your shame and inadequacy, the easier it is for him to keep you from the One who takes it away. God wants you. Always. Don’t avoid Him for any reason. Instead, go to Him—often!

I like to imagine the prodigal’s son’s long walk home (see Luke 15), inheritance squandered, as he rehearsed his plan to beg entrance to his rightful place. And then, the mixture of joy and unease at seeing his father run to greet him—how the words must have cut a hundred ways as they flew from his mouth to the ears of the one he had forsaken.

I’ve lost count of the recurrences in my life of growing distant from Christ, so that when I “see” Him again, it feels as though perhaps the closeness I once experienced was misremembered, or distorted.

But what about the day after they had celebrated his return, bellies full of food and aching from dancing and laughter? I imagine the son gradually telling his father everything—the peace of being heard, known, finally home—the far-off country fading to memory. When I picture that moment of relief, I want it for myself—to find the strength to keep walking until I’m standing there face-to-face, ready to tell Him everything.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest”—so says Jesus in Matthew 11:28. And if you’re like me, rest sounds good right about now. Traveling alone, as it were, having to make your own way through the griefs and troubles of the world, is an exhausting enterprise. We often refer to this in Christian culture as “doing it in my own strength,” but that’s not quite right. Soon enough, we all come to realize it was never strength to begin with, but weakness masked by pride. The apostle tells us to boast in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9), and yet doing so will never bear fruit unless we join that weakness to the strength of God’s love. 

The most wild and frustrating part of being human is that it’s our struggle to make this return each day, remembering that we never travel alone after we’ve received the Holy Spirit. Though we can choose to live as if that’s not true, to our own detriment. And the longer we wander in the far country of our ignorance—the less frequently we speak and commune with the Friend who will never leave or forsake us—the more we will suffer. Yet the walk home is much quicker than we think. And the Lord’s offer stands forever. He’ll always be waiting there. Wanting us with Him. Always.

 

Illustration by Adam Cruft

Related Topics:  Intimacy with God

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1 Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.

2 Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, This man receives sinners and eats with them."

3 So He told them this parable, saying,

4 What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?

5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.

6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'

7 I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

8 Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!'

10 In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

11 And He said, A man had two sons.

12 The younger of them said to his father, `Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.' So he divided his wealth between them.

13 And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.

14 Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished.

15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.

16 And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.

17 But when he came to his senses, he said, `How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!

18 I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight;

19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men."'

20 So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

21 And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

22 But the father said to his slaves, `Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet;

23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;

24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate.

25 Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.

26 And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be.

27 And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.'

28 But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him.

29 But he answered and said to his father, `Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends;

30 but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.'

31 And he said to him, `Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.

32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.'"

28 Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.

9 And He has said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

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