From Rome to Home

Lyrical Reminders

Sometimes a song I have not heard in a while will come on and capture my attention.  It might remind me of the place I first heard it or the lyrics trigger a particular memory.  This happened recently.  A song called ‘Whispers’ by the artist, Passenger, popped up on a playlist. 

For me, the song captures a longing for something more and the difficulty in finding that ‘more’ in a noisy world.  But there was one stanza in the lyrics that stood out:

Well I spent my money, I lost my friends, I broke my mobile phone

3 a.m. and I’m drunk as hell, and I’m dancing on my own

Taxi-cabs ain’t stopping, and I don’t know my way home.

Shortly after I graduated from university, I took a trip to Europe.  The trip was a sort of bookend on that phase of my life.  A recent graduate, I was doing this trip on a budget, staying in hostels, eating a lot of bread and peanut butter. 

One of the stops on my trip was Rome.  In the hostel I was staying at, I signed up for a pub crawl.  The evening was a lot of fun, but after a few stops on the tour, I lost track of the group and found myself alone in Rome.  It might not have been 3 am, but it was late enough that I knew it was time to get back to my lodgings.

Without a phone to guide me (iPhones were not a thing yet) I did not know how to get back to the hostel.  I did not know where I was in town or how to navigate my way back.  Also, I knew not a word of Italian or the address of the hostel.  All I knew was that if I could get back to Roma Termini train station, I could find the hostel. Where I found myself, however, felt like a long way from the station, and there were no taxis around.

I tried a bus.  The driver seemed to understand me when I said ‘termini’, so I sat down and hoped for the best.  I am not sure if he thought I meant ‘terminus’ but I was disappointed when we pulled into a quiet neighbourhood.  He turned the engine off and indicated this was the last stop.

Eventually I did find a taxi and was able to get back to the train station and then back to my hostel.  Though the experience was a bit of an adventure, I remember reaching a point of: “Enough is enough, I just want to be home.”

Broader Longings

At the end of this trip, I had been away for 10 weeks.  Overall, my experience was very positive, but in the trip’s final days, I felt like it was time to go home. 

Many years later, I encountered this feeling in a different way.  In my early and mid-30s my life seemed to be going in a good direction.  My young family was healthy and growing and I had a good job and was making good progress in my career.  There was nothing obvious missing from my life.  Yet I could not help but wonder if there was more to it than what I was experiencing. 

When I finally encountered a deeper faith in God, I found the missing piece.  But in finding it, I realized it was not just a piece.  It was the lens through which everything else became brighter and more real.  It permeated and helped me in all the other areas of my life.

In that encounter, it was as if God said to me, “Welcome Home”.

When I reflect on the periods of my adult life, there are some moments I am more proud of than others.  I used to look back at the failures with shame and regret.  I measured life by how well I was doing or not doing.  I did not see that until I was prepared to accept the embrace of the Father and the graces that come with it, none of this mattered. 

God does not care about our performances or achievements.  If our hearts are far from Him, none of it matters.  On the other hand, none of our failings are too big for Him to handle. He will always welcome us home when our hearts do turn towards him.  The Father’s embrace is pure gift.

A Prodigal Encounter

The story of the Prodigal Son from Luke’s Gospel (Lk 15: 11-32) is one of the greatest stories ever told.  Jesus tells a parable of two sons who take very different paths in life.  The younger son asks his father for his share of the estate – his inheritance.  He then leaves for distant lands, squanders all his money, while living in debauchery.  The older son stays and obeys his father and continues working for him. 

After many years, the younger son returns home.  He is hoping only to be taken in as a hired hand, realizing that he had committed great sins against his dad.  In his mind, he was no longer worthy of being called his father’s son. 

Yet, when his father sees him from a distance, he runs to his son and embraces him.   He dresses his son in the finest clothes and celebrates his return with a great party.

The older son reacts poorly to this.  He sees his brother, who had squandered everything, celebrated upon his return and resents him for it.  Yet the father tells him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

In my life, I find the story of the prodigal son playing out over and again.  I get distracted by the world and it takes me away from the closeness I have experienced with God.  When that happens, the sense of ‘where am I?’ will eventually come up.  When I become aware of this, I recognize it as a call to return home.

As a younger man, I felt shame when I moved away from God only to realize that I needed to seek His forgiveness.  As I continue to grow in Him, I am coming to understand these are moments He celebrates, no matter how great or small.  My shame only slows my ability to return.  I am learning to accept that His love for me is greater than the power of my shame.

It Is Never Too Late to Go Home

It might be late at night in a foreign city and you know you are somewhere you should not be.   Or you may be in the midst of a life wondering if there is more to it. Or any place between.  Regardless of where you are, Home is the place we all long for.  Like the father in the parable, God is waiting for us, watching over the horizon for our return.

Another beautiful song, The Prodigal Song, by Cory Asbury, captures this moment beautifully:

But I never reach the gate before You come running to me

All the words I’ve rehearsed for days, just fall at Your feet

No, I never reach the gate before You come running to me

All the years I threw away in one embrace are redeemed

No matter where we are or where we have been, that embrace awaits each of us.  We can walk away repeatedly.  But each time we turn with our hearts back to Him, He will be there, ready to celebrate our return.

Wherever you are today, the invitation is always there. 

Go home.

-Sean

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