It is often said – “You can’t go home again”. The idea is that things will never be the same at the old home place again. Therefore, it is futile to try and replicate things as you remember them when you grew up.
There is some truth to that, but there are others that believe this truism in their hearts another way. They believe that because of conflicts they have had with their families, especially children with parents, that they will never go home again – or at least, if they do, it will always involve tension. Sometimes so much that it just isn’t worth it to even try to return home. So, they never do.
This was difficult for me to understand and I had to learn it through the experience of one of my dearest friends. I had a very good home life growing up and my friend did not. His father was a very successful businessman that did well financially, but became addicted to drugs and alcohol. Along with that came an abusive home atmosphere. When my friend was three years old his mother finally left his father and he hadn’t seen him since then.
In my later teenage years I would go to the Downtown Rescue Mission with some friends and we would minister to the men. Some would teach and preach the Bible, some would sing, and others would tell their story of how they came to know God. In fact, the first time I ever preached a sermon was there when I was 19. I enjoyed those days very much.
One day I arrived at the mission early and sat on a small couch in the registration area by the front door and began to talk with the man that was there helping. He was one of the men from the mission and we introduced ourselves. Immediately I was intrigued by his last name.
I began to ask some questions about his family and he told me how many children he had. I then asked him the names of his three children. Sure enough, he was the father of my friend whom he had not seen for over seventeen years. I said, “Sir, you aren’t going to believe this, but I know your family and your son is one of my dearest friends. Would you like to see him?” He excitedly told me that he would indeed like to see him.
The first place I went was to my buddy’s home and I told him what had happened. His father had become a Christian and was living at the mission helping with the men. The next day me and my friend went to the mission to see his father.
We walked into the front door of the mission and there sat my friend’s father. I wasn’t sure what to expect. We both sat on the couch across from the desk behind which the old man sat. There was no handshake or embrace, just a few moments of awkward silence.
The father of my friend began to make some small talk and ask some very general questions. The answers of my friend were clipped and unemotional. I began to think, “Oh, man, have I made a mistake here?” Finally, very direct my friend looked right at his dad and said, “Charles, are you going to stop drinking and live right?” The old man looked down and muttered a few things about his new life as a Christian.
We left soon afterward. I had never called my father by his first name. I wasn’t upset with my friend doing so to his own father, but my mind was spinning and my heart was broken. When I got home I thought about the entire situation. I was expecting my friend to see his father as I had my own to some degree. It wasn’t fair, of course. The truth is, my father was more of a father to him than his real dad.
The next time the father of my friend saw him was in a funeral home in a casket after he had been killed in a car accident when he was only 22 years old. Less than ten years after that my friend’s father died.
That incident made a tremendous impact on my life in ministering to people who had left home or had a parent that had left home. Though I was very sincere in wanting to help my friend to reunite with his father and for there to be some sort of a “homecoming”, I realized that I could not fathom the hurt and sense of betrayal in the heart of my friend. I am supposing that his father was filled with guilt at what he had done to not only his son, but his other children, too.
I contrast that with my own background. When I first began in ministry I was serving in a tiny church in Dayton, Tennessee in 1977. In the fall of that year our church had a revival meeting and my parents, sister and brother drove all the way from Huntsville just to attend the Sunday night service. It was about a three hour drive one way to get there.
My responsibilities were to work with the teenagers and to play the piano in the services. My family arrived just a few minutes after the service started and the preacher spoke on the family that evening. During the invitation I went to the piano to softly play a song that was appropriate for people to respond.
During the last part of the response time the preacher asked for those in the congregation to go to their family members and tell them that they loved them and to stand with them. I remember the struggle in my heart at that moment. My family had driven a long way to be there and I really wanted to do what we had been encouraged to do at that moment. But I felt a responsibility to continue playing so the service wouldn’t be disturbed by my suddenly stopping playing the piano.
As I sat there at the keyboard thinking about my family and how much they meant to me I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder and then another. I looked up and there standing all around me as I continued to play were Dad, Mom, Melanie and Hoss. The tears began to cascade down my face as my heart was filled with love and gratitude.
I tell that story to show the idealism that I had about families. While in no way did we have a perfect family, it was genuine and heartfelt. We felt loved and cared for – and I could never imagine being abandoned by one of my parents.
When I was a young Youth Pastor I was sincere and stupid at the same time. As I have alluded to, I had a good relationship with my family. In my sincerity I would sometimes encourage teenagers to relate to their Heavenly Father in a personal way by saying something like this, “God is like your father, you can know him and fellowship with him”.
As I matured and worked with more young people I realized that was a damaging statement to make to some teenagers. The thought, “If God is like my Dad, I don’t want to have anything to do with Him. He must be a tyrant, quick to anger and continually raising the bar for me to sense approval. No, thanks, Rick. I’ll pass on that”.
My father had portrayed a good image of God to me. Sure, he was strict sometimes, but he was always merciful and interested in my life. I wrongly assumed that all fathers were in some degree like that, not understanding that wasn’t the case at all.
After getting involved with hurting young people that had been physically and sexually abused, neglected, rejected, and abandoned by one or both parents I very quickly changed the statement that “God is like your father” to “God is like an ideal father, one that loves you and will never hurt you, but cares for you unconditionally and will always be there for you”.
Some of you reading this have never had your parents to stand by you or believe in you. Perhaps you have children that have deeply hurt you and literally left home. Maybe a parent or a spouse has betrayed you. While my background is different I still believe with all of my heart based on God’s Word that there is hope to experience healing in your brokenness.
Even adults often hesitate to go home to parents because of their bitterness or the bitterness of their parents. The tension from the conflicts that occur is not worth the visit. I get that and I know people that have had to make choices to stay away because of terrible things that have happened in the present or the past.
One of my favorite ministries at church is our men’s ministry. We have a four-week course called the “Home Run Course”. I take small groups of three to four men through it occasionally. It is terrific! Each lesson gives an overview of relating to your father, your spouse, your children and to God.
Through the years we usually met at a large conference table in my office and, this is no exaggeration, that table has caught many tears that have literally pooled while good men have wept from past hurts. Many of them were hurt at home when they were young and scarred. Some carried a tough exterior, but it was a buffer to keep others from getting close to their heart. The last time they let someone in to their heart they were hurt deeply and they have purposed to never do that again.
I do a lot of counseling and one of the best books I ever read on dealing with past hurts is, “Unfinished Business: Helping Adult Children Resolve Their Past” by Dr. Charles Self. It offers insights to deal with hurts that happened when a person was younger. I would highly recommend it to you if you need help in this area. You can order it from amazon.com.
Gordon MacDonald said, “In our forties we pay off the emotional debts of the first fifteen years of our lives”. That is a powerful statement. If we fail to resolve them the result is much wasted time and a lack of relational intimacy, not just with the person that hurt us, but often with other people, too. The long-term consequence is regret because of not knowing how to deal with these “emotional debts”.
There is a message of hope for those of you that have a broken heart and feel like things
will never be the same again. You can go home again. No, it may not be the same, but you can go home again. And if you cannot because of death or bitterness from others, you can
make your home now a place of peace and joy.
For you, “home” may not mean your immediate family or your parents. It may mean going back to a very close friend with whom you had a conflict….or a church….or a job….or to a brother or sister.
Would you take the time to look up a short passage in the Bible and read it? Some have said it is the greatest short story ever written. It’s called the parable of the prodigal son. It’s located in Luke 15:11-32.
It’s about “two sons” (15:11), two brothers with conflicts with their father and each other. The cause was different, but the result was the same. Conflict is inevitable in relationships – “It is impossible but that offences will come…” (Luke 17:1)
If you hesitate to go home, don’t want to ever go back home, or just can’t go back home because of hatred, hurt or a broken heart, I hope that the next series of posts will be an encouragement and help to you.
It may not be all you wanted and take some time, but the Bible is a book of redemption for healing broken hearts and rebuilding broken relationships. If only one person can make peace with their past and start over with an estranged relationship of a loved one it will be worth my time to write these.
I will be praying for God to use them to give you hope, restoration, peace and closure. Remember, take the time to read that passage in the Bible with the short story. It’s in Luke 15:11-32. May God pour His grace and mercy on you, my dear friend. God really can give you “beauty for ashes” (Isaish 61:3).