The spiders in the bed.
For a few weeks one January, I lived in a spider-infested room under the stairs in Costa Rica was part of a January semester program and it was my chance to “immerse” myself in the Spanish language by living with a family. The family, in an effort to make a little extra money, had turned a crawl space into a bed room. Barely big enough to fit a narrow bed, the room had an exposed brick wall and a sheet that I suspected covered a fairly sizable hole to the outside.
The brick wall didn’t have enough mortar in it so in between each red brick was a wide, dark gap that hundreds of spiders lived in. At night when I came home I would click on the light and then watch as their brown hairy legs slowly receded into the shadows until I went to sleep. I’d spray myself with bug spray, pretending that made a difference and then lay in the bed trying not to hear scurrying in amongst the bricks.
The challenging thing about coming home late at night wasn’t the spiders though, or the guard dogs that circled the back yard like canine sharks, or the slumbering parrot outside my room that would yell “Hectorrrrrrr” if awoken. The real issue was that the family regularly moved their furniture around in the living room. Instead of buying new furniture, they would just rearrange their living room so that it felt different. Just when I would learn how to navigate the dark space without bumping into anything, the whole landscape would change. What I thought I knew, wasn’t. What I didn’t know, was. The rules were always new and it seemed like I was the only one that didn’t know them.
Sometimes, that is how returning to God feels. I am in the dark. I know I’ve walked that road before, but it feels different this time. There are new rules, obstacles I hadn’t expected in places I hadn’t planned. And although the street is dangerous, as the streets in
What if I do make it through that dark maze, what then? An uncomfortable bed, surrounded by the spiders of guilt and shame? Is that what awaits me when I return? A God mad at me, or at the very least disappointed at my constant failure? I know the story of the Prodigal Son, but I still fear returning.
And yet, that is the word God keeps throwing at me. Return. I expect “repent” but he keeps saying “return.” It’s kind of a plain word isn’t it? If God were going to tell you something it should have more ruffles or shine. Return is kind of vanilla and flat in some ways. But I think that’s on purpose, I think God clouded one of his most important encouragements in simplicity on purpose. I think he wants us to know that a life with him is not complicated. It is not a room full of changing furniture or a bed full of spiders, it is a word as simple as “return.”
Last night God reminded me of this word with a verse in Zechariah. It’s a short verse, only 21 words, but it’s the kind of tightly wound promise of love and compassion that unravels the more you think about it. Here is Zechariah 9:12:
Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.
There is nothing complicated in those words. We are not asked to make restitution or a million other things we often associate with coming back to the Lord. There are no stipulations placed on our trip. We are given one word, one call to action that is to serve as our only purpose, return.
And in the midst of that, we are called prisoners of hope. That phrase deserves its own post, but in quick terms, that is exactly what each of us is at the deepest of our cores. We are all prisoners of hope because inside, even if we’ve quieted the voice, we will sometimes hear our hearts say, “there has to be more than this. There’s got to be something else. There must be a hope bigger than this.” Regardless of what you think about God, that small voice will not be numbed nor will it be satisfied by anything this world offers. It wants hope. It needs hope. And until it has hope, it will hold you prisoner.
I’m not sure what you are returning from. Maybe it’s small. Maybe it’s “not reading your bible enough” or “not praying daily.” For me, the return is a lot uglier. I’ve messed up in ways that when you see a character in a movie do it, you instantly hate that character and are kind of glad when he gets hit by a car.
But there it is, for me, return. Return. Return. Return. So that’s what I am going to do. Day by day. Step by step, maybe even post by post.
I am going to return.