There will be roads we run down in life that we think will lead to some magical place flowing with milk and honey and endless Reese’s peanut butter cups (Look, they're my roads, alright? Stay with me here!)… but instead abruptly end with a large sign that reads ‘Dead End.’
I hate those signs. They mean after weeks or months or even years of walking down this road; praying and pleading with God to make things work out after a whole lot of sweat and even more tears… it’s over. There’s nothing left here. Not even one Reese’s peanut butter cup -- maybe a wrapper, but that's it.
You can scream and kick at that ‘Dead End’ sign until you’re blue in the face and your big toe starts to throb uncontrollably. But once you’re done with that, the sign still remains. And you realize you have to turn around and go back to where you started.
One of those ‘Dead End’ signs popped up for me a few years back, just eight months after moving out west to San Antonio for a job right out of college. After a bit of a rough start, things were beginning to look great for a while. I thought this might be a place I could call ‘home’ someday.
God had another thing in mind. The job went south after some transitions at work and after scrambling through job sites looking for a position that would help me stay in Texas, I ran out of options and time. “Dead End."
Then I remembered something that my friend and mentor, the one who helped me get this job and who encouraged me to take this leap of faith, said to me before I left Miami for San Antonio.
“You can always come home.”
Through all of my questions and doubts and fears about moving to a place where I didn’t know anyone for a job I wasn't sure I would be any good at, he told me those five simple words and they cut through all of it.
Before hearing those words, I thought I would be jumping off a cliff, hoping I could fly without a parachute. I was reminded that at least there was a mattress at the bottom… a soft place to land on.
One of my favorite authors, Paul Angone, put it perfectly in his book All Groan Up: “God gives us ledges of grace to land on… He won’t let us fall all the way to our deaths. He’ll give us checkpoints along the way.”
In Jesus’ parable about the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), that wayward son learned the same thing. The prodigal son ran into a ‘Dead End’ sign, too. He ran away and did things his own way and then he saw that the road he was going down led to nothing. And soon, he had nothing left and no choice but to come home, head hanging low, dreading how his father would respond. He even practiced a speech saying he wasn't even worthy to be called his son and would return to work around the house!
Whenever I hit a ‘Dead End’ sign, I usually identify a lot with this son – feeling guilty and ashamed of my own failures, humbled by the circumstances I dug myself into. He knew the only place to go was back home, but thought his father would probably be disappointed and angry with him, as much as he was with himself.
But we see something completely different here as the son starts coming home: “But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him.” (v. 20, emphasis mine)
The father brought out the best robe to clothe his son in, got sandals for his feet and held a feast for him “because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” (v. 21)
And so in this story, we see how God, our heavenly father, responds when we come back home – not with judgment or with an “I told you so,” but instead with love and compassion and great joy. Jesus wants us to know that we don’t have to fear coming back home. When we feel lost, home is where we can be found again.
Although I was feeling about as great as the dirt at my feet in front of that ‘Dead End’ sign, coming home from San Antonio without a job and right back at Square One, I could be assured that I had parents who still loved me enough to take me in and let me regain my bearings. And, even more importantly, a God who won't abandon me and would show me later that it would all be okay.
Since then, I’ve run into some more ‘Dead End’ signs, too, and the heartbreak that comes with them.
But as I take the long walk home from those dead ends, wondering if God will take me in again, I know He is ready to run out and meet me where I am – right there in my pain, shame and brokenness. And I know there is nothing – no failure, no mess up, nothing – that can separate you or me from His love, His grace, His mercy and, above all, Himself.
We didn’t do a thing to deserve it, but God lavishes us with all of this grace anyway. It's always there, at home, in His outstretched arms.
And you can always come home.