Most of us are convinced that we have taken too many wrong turns in our journey with God, and the road back is a treacherous journey, pockmarked with penance and regret. We regret the poor choices we’ve made, and the ones that we didn’t make, which spoiled. This leads to a quicksand of despair; the more we try to move the more stuck we get. Like a child who fears she has disappointed her parents, we either hide in our room, or we wear ourselves out trying to do the right thing. This is no way to live.
If it is up to me to make all the right choices in order to please God, or to come out of my room penitent enough so that God will like me again after I’ve made some bad ones, then I will be an extremely tired Christian, lifeless and poor. No wonder many of us have given up. Who first offered you that picture of God? And why do we still believe it’s accurate?
Simon Tugwell offers a different picture of God in his fabulous book, Prayers:
“Another picture that our Lord loves to use is that of the shepherd, who goes out to look for the sheep that is lost (Matthew 18:12). So long as we imagine that it is we who have to look for God, then we must often lose heart. But it is the other way about: he is looking for us. And so we can afford to recognize that very often we are not looking for God; far from it, we are in full flight from him, in high rebellion against him. And he knows that and has taken it into account. He has followed us into our own darkness; there where we thought finally to escape him, we run straight into his arms.
So we do not have to erect a false piety of ourselves, to give us hope of salvation. Our hope is in his determination to save us. And he will not give in!
This should free us from the crippling anxiety which prevents any real growth, giving us room to do whatever we can do, to accept the small but genuine responsibilities that we do have. Our part is not to shoulder the whole burden of our salvation, the initiative and the program are not in our hands; our part is to consent, to learn how to love him in return whose love came to us so freely while we were quite uninterested in him.
Also we can let ourselves off that desperate question, “Am I in the right place?” “Have I done the right thing?” Of course, we must sometimes acknowledge sins and mistakes and we must try to learn from them; but we should not foster the kind of worry that leads to despair. God’s providence means that wherever we have got to, whatever we have done, that is precisely where the road to heaven begins. However many cues we have missed, however many wrong turnings we have taken, however unnecessarily we may have complicated our journey, the road still beckons, and the Lord still “waits to be gracious” to us (Isaiah 30:18).
Can you believe that God is that good? Can you believe that God will never stop searching for you, and that wherever you are in this actual moment, the road to Heaven begins there? You are not stuck in quicksand. God loves you and is always waiting to be gracious to you.
So, let yourself off the meat hook. God’s eyes are shining with delight, and God has found you right here, right now.