When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my Father”
There are two distinct life experiences that serve to re-awaken in us the need to “go back to our Father’s house.” More often than not we are motivated by either a strong experience of desire, or one of suffering. And it would be easy to imagine which one our Father would prefer for us.
Feelings of love and desire for God naturally lead us to more intently seek relationship. When people are first dating, no one has to remind the guy to call the girl, or for either of them to keep their Friday nights open just in case there might be an opportunity to get together. Love keeps the other person in mind and there is nothing more important than being together. There are times when our relationship with God is motivated by a similar attraction of love.
But there is another motivation that comes from a more desperate expression of our need for God. This usually happens when we have been trying for too long to live the Christian life on our own. Like a branch that has withered, we feel burdened and discouraged about our lives. We are flailing and yet we persist in this mode even though our plight seems more and more hopeless. We reach a point where we feel we can go no further. We are ready to give up. And yet, somehow, we still stubbornly persist. Eventually our circumstances and the gradual drying up of our wills force us, usually as a last resort, to return to God. It was a long time in coming, but suffering finally brought us back to our senses.
The painful result of living life on his own terms was what motivated the prodigal son to finally decide to return to his father’s house. From the father’s point of view, it was surely grievous that this recourse was necessary. But such is the high risk that God has taken in granting us the freedom to choose Him, or not.
There is wisdom to be gained from the experience of inner distress when, for lack of God, we suffer unnecessarily in our lives. This type of pain eventually teaches us that an ounce of prevention is better than the pound of cure needed to recover our stability and peace in God. The art of spiritual maintenance then becomes a matter of recognizing the very desire we feel for God as a gift that we are to cherish and not take for granted.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “God sometimes uses pain, like a megaphone, to get our attention.” May we learn to avoid, as much as possible, the necessity for such by more readily heeding the still small voice that reminds us of our love and desire for God. Even now, it whispers to all who are straying, “it is time to come home to the Father.”