For the afternoon services of the Last Day of Unleavened Bread here in the Portland area, the choir is scheduled to sing a song called “Welcomed Home Again.” As is often the case, the song presents the narrator as having been lost and stranded and walking in darkness due to sins and weaknesses, and being welcomed home by our loving heavenly Father, in an image of the parable of the prodigal son. To be certain, many people wander far from home due to sin and weakness, a desire to carouse or live a wild and dissipated existence, but I cannot say that I have ever been driven to wander for such motives. Some of us wander far from home for other motives, and it is difficult to reflect on those matters without a fair amount of sorrow.
In his song “93 Million Miles,” Jason Mraz puts words into the mouth of his father and his mother concerning home. He has his mother say that in life he is going to go far, but if he’s doing it right he’ll love where he is, and that wherever he goes he can always come back home. He puts words into his father that in life matters sometimes seem dark but the absence of light is a necessary part. Jason Mraz, as a young man, was a pretty wild fellow, even getting married rather hurriedly (in Las Vegas of all places) to a young women he barely knew. He was able to come back home despite his failures, and had a firm base of parental support even though his parents divorced when he was young, an experience that seems to have deeply affected him. I can relate.
There is a fine balance we need when it comes to home. We all need a home base where we can be accepted, have peace and encouragement, and where we can heal our wounds from the battles of life (for life indeed can be pretty hard on some of us), so that we can get ready to go back out and do battle in a hostile world. I have always had the idea (I have no idea where I got it from, though) that home was a place where there should be love and encouragement and where people should gain the resources and education they need for success in life as well as a binding of the wounds from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. All too often home can either feel like a prison where one has to try to plot one’s escape or a place where the unwelcome mat has been laid out. People need the skills and encouragement to succeed on their own, but they also need to have a home base where they can recuperate from the trials and tribulations of life, whether we have brought them on ourselves or simply been a relatively innocent bystander in a cruel world. Life is hard enough without us having to be hard on our loved ones, but yet all too often we are hardest on those who are supposed to be closest to us.
I cannot claim to be immune from such tendencies myself, though I certainly had plenty of models to learn from, if that can be said in my defense. It is a loving thing to welcome someone home again after they have come to themselves and repented of their sins, but that is a comparably easier thing than to welcome home an exile who had been cast away wrongfully. To forgive someone else who has wronged us gives us a sense of having given largesse, and giving grace always gives us some boost in our own sense of dignity and self-worth. To seek forgiveness from those whom we have wronged, and whom we have cast aside because we could not stand to admit that we had wronged them, even if they are gracious people willing and even eager to forgive, is a matter that requires significantly more humility. It is vastly easier for the prodigal son to be welcomed home again than for the virtuous exile who is condemned to wander simply because he brings to light difficult and unpleasant truths that others are unwilling to admit to themselves and others. For many of us, we will only be welcomed home again when we enter the kingdom of heaven. Until then, we are strangers and pilgrims here.