One of my most treasured parables in the Bible is of the prodigal son. Luke 15:20 states, “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” The reason that for me, this is the climax of the story is simply this: this scripture illustrates that God is not only willing to take us back after we have strayed, but that he’s waiting for us.
As a young girl, who asked Jesus into my heart at three years old, I could never have envisioned the twists and tragedies that would drive me away from my relationship with the Lord. Having grown up in an intensely legalistic church, the focus was always placed on my behavior and actions, rather than on the content of my character and the motives within my heart. I learned at an early age that I must not make mistakes and that I needed to live as perfect a life as possible to avoid confrontation and rebukes.
While I passionately followed Christ and desired more than anything to be like Him, it didn’t take long before living a life under the law as opposed to one under grace started to drive a wedge between me and my Savior.
I became so motivated by fear, that I forgot how to obey out of love and a genuine desire to please him. So much pressure was placed on me to always do the right thing, that I stopped caring about why I was striving for perfection to begin with—to look more like Jesus.
The white-washed façade I was forced to live was weighing down my soul and disconnecting me from the true source of life.
Without any earthly model of God’s heart for me, I projected the flawed perspective that sinful men had of me onto a perfect man who loves me unconditionally.
My life began to unravel before it had begun. I was born into a physically abusive home and the fact that I was a defenseless infant made no difference to my abuser. It started almost immediately following my birth and by six months old, I had already been beaten until I passed out from the trauma. I survived years of physical abuse before it escalated to verbal and emotional abuse as well.
As early as I could possibly understand, I knew I wasn’t truly loved. I knew even to be treated decently and not trigger an angry response, I had to walk a delicate tight rope with both my words and my behavior. I had a complete awareness that me getting along on any tolerable, surface level was entirely dependent on me “acting right.”
Following my childhood abuse and my parent’s subsequent divorce, I was quite understandably damaged goods. I didn’t trust absolutely anyone to have my best interests at heart from the time I was probably seven or eight.
I spiraled into a depression that became crippling in my early teen years and was labeled rebellious by all my church leaders. I legitimately wasn’t a bad kid or teenager. I was just shut down and disillusioned.
I was broken, and my brokenness was interpreted as disobedience.
I didn’t let anyone in; therefore, I was difficult and stubborn.
One pastor prophesied over me, comparing me to a stubborn mule. An elder publicly disowned me in my youth, in front of all my friends and family, telling me I was beyond reaching and even God couldn’t save me. He was “washing his hands of me.” A visiting “prophet” (i.e., someone neither I nor anyone in my church knew anything about) who I am pretty sure was the devil in disguise, laid his hands on me and prophesied over me that I would go to my grave early due to my rebellion.
As an adult, these experiences are literally beyond my comprehension. How anyone could stand by and let these words be spoken over a young, vulnerable, heartbroken child fills me with inexplicable rage at this point. The mama bear within me rears its head, and all I want to do is push past every single person encircling me with lies and go hug that poor girl. I have spent countless years of my life, trying to accept that I couldn’t have possibly saved her, though I will always wish I could take her far away from all the people who were so detrimental to her soul and belief system.
All I saw in people and the world was darkness. I wanted a God who had good things in store for my life, but my life was a living hell. My heart and mind couldn’t reconcile my life experiences with a loving God, so I turned my back. I rejected Him and denied His existence, even though deep in my heart, I longed to be wrong. I refused to pray. I wouldn’t serve a Savior who would let a child suffer in the ways I had.
How could I trust a God who sent so many men to tell me I was a bad kid, I was too far gone, or that I wasn’t even worth saving?
On one particular Sunday afternoon, I sat through what I thought would be my final church service. I cried the entire time. No one bothered to ask what was wrong. I walked away and went home, where I proceeded to battle in my mind for hours before I took a handful of pain medication, prayed to never wake up again, and blacked out.
But wake up, I did, much to my immediate regret. I was 15 years old, and I saw no light at the end of the tunnel, after so many years of pain.
It was only a few months after my first suicide attempt when my appendix ruptured. I went days thinking I had an awful flu bug, so by the time I got to the hospital, the infection had spread through my body like a wildfire and I had a raging 105-degree temperature that couldn’t be brought down. A few weeks after surgery, I developed a complication and had to have a second surgery. I remember like it was yesterday, lying in that hospital bed in excruciating pain and my mother asking me if she could pray for me before I went into surgery.
Then again, in recovery, one of the pastors at my church showed up to try to pray for me and see me and I wouldn’t allow him in.
I was so tired of following God out of fear of punishment. The God that had been modeled to me my entire life, wasn’t one I was willing to follow.
But if . . . if there was a God who was good, a God who wouldn’t shun me when I failed, a master that was not so harsh, a Savior that was waiting to extend grace to me, someone who loved all of me completely . . . Him, I might consider. No one in my life seemed to know that Jesus, but, oh how desperate my heart was to find Him and know true acceptance and salvation that was not dependent on me and my good works.
Two months after my surgery, I planned a detailed second suicide attempt. I wrote all the goodbye letters. A psychiatrist intervened and sent me to a psychiatric hospital on suicide watch, and I was unable to leave of my free will. If there ever was a rock bottom in my life, that was it. I was completely alone, unable to call anyone to save me, strip-searched for weapons, and locked in my own room at 16 years old. I have never been so terrified in all of my life. However, of all the things I vividly remember about my time there, what I will always remember most, is that it was there that I met Jesus . . . the one I had been looking for.
He didn’t want my perfection. He wanted my heart.
He didn’t want me to hide all my broken pieces behind a phony smile on Sunday morning. He wanted the real me, the broken little girl with the brave face. He didn’t want to condemn me. He wasn’t waiting to strike me with a lightning bolt at the first sign of a misstep on my behalf. He wasn’t mad at me. He really wasn’t. He loved me before time began. He still loved me at my darkest moments of cursing Him and denying His existence.
I had turned my back on Him, but He never turned away from me.
I think when we imagine the analogy in the story of the prodigal, we sort of envision God begrudgingly takes us back, but nothing could be farther from the truth. His eyes are always scanning down the road, waiting for our return. He wants us. He anticipates a restored relationship with us. He isn’t holding out for us to clean up our act before we return to Him. His love makes us clean. He makes all things new and that includes you and me. He makes our hearts whole again.
If you’ve been wandering in the desert so to speak, this is your sign that it’s time to come back home. It’s not too late. You aren’t too far gone. You will always be forgiven and accepted. He’s waiting, so what are you waiting for?
Originally published on the author’s Facebook page