The concept "home" can have great warmth and attraction. It speaks of love, family, comfort and security to those who have experienced those good things.
To some, though, home can be a place of loneliness and separation. It can represent anxiety, frustration and imprisonment. The circumstances that govern those emotions are as varied as the people who live there.
Sometimes, home life can become so difficult that to stay seems unbearable. We feel compelled to leave, break off the relationships and make a fresh start away from the pain. We look forward to the new home, the better circumstances, the reduced pressure, the new freedom.
There is a story in the Bible of a young man who, for whatever reason, was unhappy at home. Maybe he didn’t like the rules. Maybe he felt that he was treated unfairly. Maybe it was simply that he felt the call of excitement to a new environment with fewer restrictions. The young man left home and went to live in a distant city. (Luke 15:11-32). Surely his life would be better there.
At home, there was no laughter, no excitement about the son’s decision. There was heartbreak and tears on top of worry and fear for his safety. Loneliness and pain became a constant companion to those left behind. The future became a blurry and uncertain mystery.
In the story of the wayward son, the life of the young man was exciting and full of friends and high living at first. Later, when the money ran out, he began to think more and more of the life he had at home. Over time, he decided to return to his family and to see if they would take him back.
The story ends well because of the father’s forgiveness. The boy was reunited with his family, willing to agree to some conditions he had ignored when he left. What had been so negative and challenging to the boy was welcomed at his homecoming.
Many of us have had similar experiences. We can relate to either the young adult or the family left behind. I can speak only from the parent’s point of view, having dealt with the loss of a child for 10 years. During that time of separation, my emotions ranged from loneliness and sadness to anger and resentment. I felt that God’s testing was often more than I could bear.
When at last the phone call came and the voice on the other end asked to come home, I was excited, but guarded — unsure of what this "return" would really mean. The family had been hurt deeply, and I was determined to be heard as to just how much we had suffered. Unlike the father in the Bible, I wanted my "day in court."
When the car door opened in our driveway, my gun of self-righteousness was cocked and ready to use. There was a moment of hesitation on both of our parts as we stood within arms’ reach of each other, not knowing how we were going to be accepted.
At that instant, all the bitterness and anger disappeared and we fell into each other’s arms and hugged for a long moment. There was no mention then of the past. Only the future: Where do we go from here?
I would not wish separation from a child on anyone in the world. But I will say this: I am convinced that the relationship that we enjoy today would not have been possible without the leaving. The lessons learned on all sides more than made the temporary loss worthwhile.
Even today, the words of the Bible that helped the family endure are even more comforting: "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength. But with the temptation will also provide the way of escape so that you can endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).
• To contact the Rev. Jim Bush of Heartland Church, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. All religious leaders in the Tracy area are invited to write for Reflections on Faith.