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