There’s a quirky short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne about a man named Wakefield. One day Wakefield wakes up and decides to take a little break from his wife and home in London and rents out a room one block over. He doesn’t tell his wife and intends to stay away only for a day or two. But then the days go on and he watches his wife from a distance for twenty years. Never once does he let her know where he is or even that he is alive. For twenty years. The story ends when one day Wakefield is out walking down the street and he suddenly decides to return home; we see him entering the door to his house as if he had never left.
How many of us have a relationship with God like that? One day we slip away and we think it’s just a short break from the relationship, but the years pass and it’s as if we’re watching God from one street over. Now, by this, I’m not talking necessarily about people who have strayed away from the church. Because the church and God are not the same thing. I’m talking about anyone who has removed themselves from the loving relationship God offers. It can happen for people inside the church as easily as it can for those outside the church. I do hope those of us who are inside the church are there because we want to grow in our relationship with God. I hope we're opening ourselves to the love of God that fills us to overflowing and spills out onto other people who also want to grow in their relationship with the God of love.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a loving relationship with someone and that relationship is in balance, I can feel it. When it’s out of whack, I can feel that too. I suspect that we also know when our relationship is in balance with God, or when it’s out of whack. One way to tell is if following Christ’s commandment to love one another as he has loved us is a burden for us or if it just comes naturally. After all, when you’re in a loving relationship with someone, you want what they want. If Christ wants us to love one another as he has loved us, it’s what we want too. It’s not a huge struggle for us; it’s something that we willingly do. We may not be perfect at loving the way Christ does, but there is no question that we’re not resisting it. What Christ wants for us is the same thing we want for ourselves.
It’s tempting to become like Wakefield and say, "You know, maybe someday I’ll go home, maybe someday I’ll be in a relationship with God," and then the days and the years pass. Of course, Wakefield did go home in the end. We don’t know if his wife was like the waiting father in the story of the prodigal son or not, but we do know that that’s how our God is. He’s always waiting for us to come to our senses and find our way back to him. But in the meanwhile, how much are we missing? Wakefield missed out on 20 years of his life because he was a stubborn old fool. God’s love is all around us. May we have enough sense to open our hearts and let it in.