A few Sundays ago, the youth pastor at my church shared a story that had everyone (me included) fighting tears. At about eight years old, he decided to run away from home. Not for any real reason, “maybe just as a way to assert my independence.” His parents tried to talk him out of it, but he wouldn’t be swayed. He was going to run away. So, they let him go. As he started to walk down the block, he heard his father’s car start. But he’d made his decision, so he kept walking. The car pulled out into the road and followed along behind him.
Our pastor said he’d made it a few blocks when it started to get dark and cold and too real. He wasn’t sure where he would live now or who would feed him. He couldn’t go back home, but he didn’t want to keep going.
He said he stood there for a while, then began to cry. After a few seconds, he heard his father get out of the car. His dad hugged him, then led him back to the car, and buckled him in. Together, they went home.
It’s easy to see how our pastor was relating this story to his relationship with God. The point was that even when we turn our back on God, He’ll be right behind us, waiting for us to turn around. But that story reminded me of one from my childhood.
For most of my childhood, we lived in a farmhouse with a quarter mile of lane between us and the gravel road. One day, my sister Emily and my mom were fighting over something. Emily screamed, “I’m going to run away.” Mom’s answer? To help her pack.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that the way you grow up affects every part of the rest of your life. You either overcome the bad or you let it drag you down. You cling to the good. The most important lesson I ever learned, I learned from my mom.
I don’t remember what Mom and I were talking about now, just that it didn’t feel like a big deal until Mom said, “Just make sure you can still stand to look at yourself in the mirror.”
People get upset at the idea of a God who would let people He supposedly loved go to hell. What they don’t want to acknowledge is that without free will, there is no love, only compulsion. God loved us enough to give us a choice—and even when we rejected Him, God loved us enough to respect our decision. Because even though our decisions might hurt Him and the people around us, we’re the ones who have to live with them.
That’s why Mom helped Emily pack her little red suitcase.
But Mom also reminded Emily to take a jacket. And she stood at the window and watched Emily head off down the lane. When Emily came back crying, Mom hugged and kissed her and helped her unpack the suitcase like nothing had happened.
Because He loves us, God gave us the freedom to choose. Because he wants us to be safe, He’ll give us other options, better ones to lead us out of trouble. Ultimately, He’ll respect our choices, but He’ll always be watching over us, waiting to welcome us back home.