He hated himself and what he’d become. He felt like a failure. To everyone. Even God. ◊
It’d been so long since he’d seen them that he almost thought he might not recognize them when he drove into his small hometown on that December afternoon. He passed by his old high school which seemed to have shrunk yet had added a new wing and an overhaul in cosmetic upgrades. His tree-lined street seemed lusher than he recalled yet the houses in the neighborhood stayed in their same classic configuration but with new fences, paint jobs, and new landscaping in some cases.
Not much change at his own house. Same small yard, driveway and walkway to the simple single-story house in which he was raised. But the house was alive with the same aura of light and color. He could see it right away with the bright yellow curtains in the kitchen window bordered by fresh flowers his mother always replaced every other week from the local grocery store. As he approached the front door, he could hear them inside with the television on and the busy chatter that was always reminiscent of this home of his youth.
But he was not the youth that he was. Still young of course at only 23, but he was not the same, and he suspected they were not the same either. But they were. Even after his time of wandering – “to find my own way” is how he put it to friends and family. He’d had a couple of tough and embarrassing years in college after leaving for the east coast as a local hero going east to conquer the world in a foreign land that was a small ivy league university. But he hated it there and dropped out in his second year. He didn’t have the nerve to tell his family that he’d quit school midway through his sophomore year and had taken a job waiting on tables in a local small restaurant outside of Boston.
He hated himself and his life. He felt like a failure. To everyone. Even God.
Actually, he never much thought about God anymore. Why bother when it seemed like God doesn’t bother with him anymore. Whatever spiritual awakening or Christian hoopla experience he’d had those high school summers at Hume Lake youth camp in California seemed long dead to him. And that local church youth program with his friends and Karen seemed like years ago. Long gone, like a facade in his mind that seemed unreal. And unrepeatable.
Poor Karen. When he left for college, he dropped her like he dropped God. He heard that she was married now and living in Seattle. Back then his new life in college was too sophisticated for his old town and past relationships and simplistic Christianity. Even his old loyal girlfriend. She was actually too Christian for him, or so he thought. He was learning new ways to think about origins and development of life and enlightened philosophies of the world. He’d felt so alive in his newfound base of learning. Plato and Aristotle were taking him places that made Christianity seem dull and out of sync. That and the wild life of freshman dormitory living is enough to corrupt any young person, and destroy a grade-point average. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll are alive and well. Add a strong and consistent dose of atheism from cool and impressively credentialed professors, and soon an unmoored life is drifting out to sea, easily lost, alone and ashamed.
And now nowhere to go but home.
The shock in his mother’s face when she opened the door was enough to almost make him regret coming home. Just as the sad thought of putting her through this emotional jolt was coursing through him, it was quickly replaced by the comfort of seeing her confused face morph into the most beautiful smile and look of pure joy he’d ever seen. She lit up like a tree and shouted over her shoulder “Honey, kids, come quick, it’s Ryan!”
The reunion was loud and happy, though with an undercurrent of obvious questions. What happened? Why the limited contact? Are you home for good? Where have you been? What are you doing?
Ryan answered as best he could. He had as many questions of himself. He heartily apologized for what he’d put them all through. Particularly his young brother who was still living at home and soon preparing for his own trek into college years. And his parents, who looked older but simply exuded unending love without judgment, anger, or hurt. Ryan’s recurring refrain was his regret for his silence and that he was home on the west coast for good now, at least for the time being until he could figure out what he was going to do next.
His apologies were overwhelmed by the sheer happiness of all who received him that afternoon. That day and thereafter, there would be no reprimands, no lectures, no condemnation. His humbled heart and spirit immersed in the love of his family reset something deep inside him. What love was like this? He recalled the story they told at his old church youth group about the prodigal son who ran away and squandered his fortune. He returned with nothing to nothing but his father’s love and welcoming arms. And a lavish party. The tie-in with God was that God was like the loving, forgiving father. No guilt, just loving acceptance, freely given.
Short of the lavish party and killing of the fatted calf, Ryan was welcomed home with unrestrained love and acceptance. He couldn’t believe it. But then again, it was a new day. Perhaps he could begin to believe, all over again.
Happy New Year!
‘For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” – Luke 15:24