Another wave rose over his head, the crest curling inevitability toward him before engulfing him in another eternity. He didn’t have time for a full breath this time and water mixed with the air his lungs so desperately sought. He coughed out violently as his face broke the stormy surface. A huge gasp of air sucked in a split second before he was again pounded below the surface. His lungs burned, his vision clouded. Gone were the thoughts of how he got here. Lost were the feelings of regret, sorrow, and anger for the events leading to this moment. His next breath was all that mattered. His desperate need to stay above the waves was everything. Instinct. Survival. His next panicky intake of sweet oxygen.
Strength gone, eyes blinded by the sting of salt and spray, seeing nothing but blurred mountains of water rising all around, he cried out for help. The wind mocked him and whipped his words away on its howling journey past. His puny voice barely making it past blue lips. His arms reaching out in feeble attempts to stay afloat. The mountains rose above him, merging their menacing forms with the gray sky, outlined by white foamy caps racing to engulf him. All seems hopeless, yet still he cries out. Help seems so remote, yet still his hand grasps for saving.
Survival. That is the beautiful, terrible place where He meets me. The sinking Peter reaches instinctively for the hand of Jesus. Not because he is sorry, but because he is drowning. And the strong grip of Jesus pulls him up without hesitation. He does not ask Peter to apologize first before he will save him. He simply takes hold of the hand reaching out for Him. My very act of desperate dependence compels Jesus in his compassion and love to lift me above the waves. It is only then he gently chides me for my unbelief. I am safe in his arms, and his words are not condemning, but sweet food to my broken heart.
The prodigal son returns not because his stomach was “churning with compunction” due to breaking his father’s heart. He came home because he was starving.
Desperate, with a speech prepared, I drag myself home in stinking rags simply to survive. Hungry, with no money, I place one heavy foot in front of the other. Almost at the same moment my Father’s house comes into view I notice a figure running out the door toward me. I see it is my Dad, undignified and unselfconsciously running to meet me on the road leading to the house. He gives me no chance to give my speech. No chance to even speak. His arms wrap around me as his tears wet my kneck. He holds me tight and then stands back to look at me with tender longing. My mouth opens to speak. I must somehow earn my way in. I must say the words to make myself worthy. But Papa interrupts my attempts as his voice rises above mine to instruct the servants to prepare a meal and dress me! The fury of his love and affection for me is overwhelming. This undeserved generosity humbles my vain attempts. I can do nothing but receive. I have nothing with which to pay him back. I am his son. His baby boy. His beloved child. I am home.