A revelation came to me a few weeks ago as we sang the ending to one of my favorite hymns: “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it. Seal it for Thy courts above”.
The revelation was this: I am a wanderer.
As I reflect back, I can see I’ve wandered many times in my 30 years. But one time I wandered farther than I ever had before. Far into the darkness. And then I stayed there.
I was in college the first time I ran from my faith. Though I’d been to church nearly every Sunday since I was born, I did not have a deep foundation nor a relationship with God. Without this connection, church and all it demanded became nothing more than a boring hobby, and it was all too easy for me to walk (or run) away from something my heart wasn’t invested in. I began searching elsewhere for false comfort and answers. In hindsight I can now see how this decision started to darken all areas of my life, in school, in relationships, and in my heart. I became used to the darkness, and it was filled with bitterness, anger, alcohol, and depression.
After years of running aimlessly, a non-Christian friend of mine took me out to dinner, looked me in the eyes, and said, “I think you need Jesus back in your life.” The best way I can describe this experience was like driving a car at full speed and crashing head-on into a barricade. For the first time in years my world came to a screeching stop, and I was finally still enough to look at my life and realize how deep into the darkness I had wandered.
I wish I could tell you that next day I was a new person who rededicated my life and never looked back. The reality is this was a slow process and just one step of many to start transforming my heart and bringing me back to my Almighty Father. I graduated and started seeking God with the urgency of someone who’d been caught on fire. Though I had this new passion, I was still overwhelmed with guilt and shame for my season of running. As I began to dig into the bible, I was surprised and relieved to see that several of the influential people God chose to grow His kingdom were wanderers too. Look at Jacob, Moses, Jonah, Paul, and even Peter, to name a few. But one of my favorite bible stories about wandering is Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son.
In Luke 15, Jesus tells the story of a son who selfishly runs away from his father to worship the god’s of idolatry with his “wild living”. In this story we often focus on the sins of the son who left, or the jealousy of the son who stayed and was unaware of all the gifts he already possessed. But what about the response of the Father in the story? What about the overwhelming joy and open arms of his Father that are given before the son even explains why he left or why he returned; before he even asks for forgiveness? What amazing news this is, and what an overwhelming love!
“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.”
Brennan Manning explains, “The gospel of grace announces, Forgiveness precedes repentance. The sinner is accepted before he pleads for mercy. It is already granted. He need only receive it. Total amnesty. Gratuitous pardon. What a word of encouragement, consolation, and comfort! We don’t have to sift our hearts and analyze our intentions before returning home. Abba just wants us to show up.”
Matt Chandler puts it this way, “The marker of those who understand the gospel of Jesus Christ is that, when they stumble and fall, when they screw up, they run to God and not from Him, because they clearly understand that their acceptance before God is not predicated upon their behavior but on the righteous life of Jesus Christ and his sacrificial death.”
I feel compelled to share how easy it can be to fall into the trap of saying you are “saved” when in reality there’s no depth to your faith, nor a living relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s taken me several years to realize church attendance does not equate to spiritual growth and maturity. What came through my wandering was a yearning for a deeper love, which required me to learn how to become more honest and self-aware of my intentions and my sins. The result has been a more genuine faith than I ever had before I strayed.
- Have you ever run and felt stuck in the darkness? Are you there right now?
- Do you believe in your heart that He has not forgotten about you? Why or why not?
- What scares you about returning to your Father?
- Do you know you can never go too far that He will not accept you, that He will stop searching for you?
- What does it mean to you to have a living relationship with God, and what step(s) do you need to take to start or deepen that relationship?
When I was once in the darkness, I felt so alone. I see now that I have never been alone, and I never will be. I have taped up bible verses like Romans 8 around my house to help remind me that “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love”. As my love and understanding for God grows, the less I wander. Though I doubt the darkness will never call again, I now know God will never give up fighting to bring me back to Him. He sings over the other voices:
“Even if you run away from me,Jess Ray “Runaway”
over the mountains through the valleys
I will not rest but search east and west
to bring you back with me
Even if you stomp and scream and huff,
tell me that I’m not good enough
I’ll take every swing and every blow,
until you know my love.
Even if you beat upon my chest,
tell me that you don’t understand,
I will love you and teach you to love me again,
I’m gonna love you and teach you to love me again”