“Life is so uncertain,” Lyle Lovett once quipped in his song, Here I am. What a boring, painful existence is a certain life after all. “Make it, a cheeseburger,” Lovett continues in the next line humorously exposing the trivial problems of such a life of assurance. Is this certainty not the American Dream articulated?
A few nights ago my wife and I wept as we gained perspective and freedom against our living with strong headed ambition and its soul-sucking limitations—that life of certainty. As we sat wrestling about the future and what to do next (as many young people do), the parable of the prodigal son emerged into the conversation. But I realized this was my story. Only, I am the son who never leaves, who plays it safe, who seeks approval and is crushed by the seeming apathy of anyone who doesn’t laud my do-gooding. I realized I am not ready for the Kingdom of Heaven for if it appeared today, like the second son, I would choose to sit outside the front gate and weep because the party wasn’t about honoring my lifetime of faithfulness.
Instead, it would celebrate the people which I now seek to love and honor—the poor, homeless, outcast, underprivileged etc. To be honest, I am expecting that when the Kingdom comes, finally this man (me) who humbled himself and served the least of these will be first, noticed, honored, appreciated! Instead I believe that in those days, the party will be for those people and for the people who had the presence of God right next to them their entire life but never knew it. The wise, the woke, the Muslims, the ignorant, the important, the poor, the included and excluded, the Hindu, the farmer—all who were one with their father and never knew it. And the father is going to throw a feast for them because what was lost has been found. And there will I sit outside the gate because I thought I was going to be the life of this party. I served the poor, and rejected status, and rallied others for good.
Where is my reward!?
And I imagine a very sympathetic God hugging me and saying, “What’s mine has always been yours. I’ve been with you every day. Every time we spoke in prayer. Every time you loved your wife and served your child. Every time you woke up in the morning. Every time you fought depression and anxiety. Every time you wrestled with guilt every time you celebrated with joy. Every time you failed and succeeded there I was too. These people spent their entire lives alone but alas, now they are found!”
But I could see myself wallowing out the front gates because I had a dream, I had an agenda, I had a selfish motive. I wanted a reward, notoriety, honor. And God instead honors the people whom I’ve tried to serve already? I would sit alone and weep because all of my doing was worthless. And I would realize that I HAD the Kingdom every day, all along—it was at hand inside me! But I insisted on earning it. I earned nothing but instead missed a lifetime of intimacy, unity, love, and oneness with the Divine. I HAD God every day but missed it because I thought deep down that if I was pious and good and pure he would honor and reward me in Heaven.
Instead I’ve had heaven here and missed it. I’ve been taught I must practice the presence, and invite the spirit, and usher in His will. Instead, this was all available in every moment—in every emotion, breath, act of love, moment of anger, controlling my tongue, going to bed, and enjoying the sunset. Instead of receiving like a child I wanted to earn it like a businessman. Quid pro quo.
And I would weep at a life wasted. Doing good to experience God, never accepting that God has been there the whole time, “to the end of the age.”
There is no condition on God’s love. Why do we reject it and insist on controlling it?
In the story of the two sons, I still want to be the second son. Only I want to put down my shovel and rake and instead pull up a chair and enjoy every breath next to the Divine Presence that is God. I want to listen. Let God love me. Let God teach me. Enjoy “being-ness” itself.
I’ve realized I spend about 99% of my life trying to do more and do better, and focus on MY SIDE of the friendship with God. This is so backward, controlling, and exhausting. I’m ready to focus on what God is giving, initiating, and inspiring and put down getting, achieving, ambition, and working for reward. I am meant to help, serve, and save NO MAN, but rather myself to BE saved, redeemed, and loved.
Perhaps then the hardest part about following Jesus isn’t serving others or serving God. Perhaps the hardest part is allowing ourselves to be poor and needy enough that we would allow Jesus to come and serve us.
“If I do not wash your feet, you have no share with me.” (Jesus in John 13.8)
And I want to be like John who, after resisting understands Jesus and says,
“Lord not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.”
And like the second son, something in me remembers,
“…But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your commandment, yet you never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends…”
But God whispers,
“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It is fitting to celebrate and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”