The last year affair.
(This is a small chapter from my yet to be released, probably exclusively available in my living room, book “The Prodigal Son’s Field Guide: 101 Things to Do the Day After the Welcome Home Party.”)
Throw out your calendar.
A friend of mine got caught having an affair one October. Three months later, in the middle of January, he and his wife got into an argument about the whole situation. In the midst of it, he tried to describe the affair as something “that happened last year.” That, was a very stupid thing to do, but I understand why he did it.
He, like me and maybe even you, bought into the idea that “time heals all wounds.” He was opening up his calendar and putting a timeframe on redemption. He was assigning power and promise to weeks and months. Hoping that if he stacked enough days up like so many bandages, his wife would forgive him. Life would move on. Time would swallow his failure.
As far as life plans go, that’s a pretty horrible one because time does not heal all wounds. At best, it numbs them. It puts false distance between me and my hurt. It’s false because even if I’ve used the weight of a decade to hold down a memory, something unexpected can bring me right back to that place. Out of the blue, a word, a scene in a movie, the smell of suntan lotion, a million things can take me back to regret I’ve never dealt with. Suddenly ten years of “healing” disappear as I’m rushed back to the past.
Once there, the past is such a seductive thing. When I look back in the rear view mirror, it’s constantly swelling its chest, appearing more important than it is, adding details to memories, hiding others in the shadows, recreating what really happened. I like to think that my memories are documentaries, full of fact and truth, but they’re more like summer blockbusters. Full of special effects and illusions.
And now, three days after your welcome home party, with the rest of your calendar ahead of you, it’s tempting to stay in your room and trust in the forward march of time to absolve you of everything that existed before this exact moment.
But life doesn’t work that way. And neither does God. He works like a four-year old.
My four-year old daughter believes that everything she’s ever done in her short life happened yesterday. There’s no delineation between last week, last month or last year. All activities are placed securely in her large “yesterday bucket.”
“Remember yesterday when we went to the zoo?”
“My birthday was yesterday and it was so much fun.”
“Yesterday, that mean boy pushed me down on the playground.”
I used to think this approach to time framing her life was adorable. She only has the now and the yesterday and sees little use for anything else. But in the last few months I’ve started to believe that’s how God sees things too. When he looks at my life, he doesn’t use the same labels that I’ve forced on his creation of time. He doesn’t see something I did wrong last week as any different from a mistake I made a year ago. He doesn’t have a thousand little boxes he wants me to open that represent different time periods in my history. He sees yesterday and today. And yesterday, whether it was something from 10 years ago or 10 minutes ago is long gone in his mind.
Christ explains God’s view of time within the conversation the father has with the older brother in the story of the prodigal son.
28″The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
”‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ”
The older brother tries to use the calendar as justification for his anger. He says, “all these years” and puts a timeframe on his obedience. But the father doesn’t even consider the years his older son has stayed with him or the amount of time the younger son spent on the run. For him it’s much simpler. There are only two conditions, dead or alive, lost or found. There is no need to wait for time to heal any wounds or to weigh out time gone versus time obedient. The rescued has occurred, the key moment has happened.
No calendar cannot change that. Time cannot offer that kind of healing. You were dead and are alive again.
You are found.