I’ve known all this for quite a while, it’s been real in my head for a long time, yet recently it slammed deeper into my gut and set with a new twist in my heart.
We return to my journey, my trying to find where I belong. The searching for home, so to speak, that brought me to that sweaty hotel room:
My search for God didn’t resemble the younger son’s rebellion and it was mercifully different from the older son’s rejection, though I did identify with him in a few ways. The similarity between the brothers and myself was that my attention rested on me, on my behavior, and on my desires. The motivation may have been better than either of the brothers, but the attention was just as broken. I often fall into the trap of thinking it is about me, about what I do or don’t do, about where I am or am not… On that occasion I felt some fear and loneliness, a little incomplete and lost, and maybe just a bit broken. I was reading a book by Vincent Donovan, a Catholic priest who became a missionary to the Masai in Tanzania. I was reading through the chapters, minding my own business, then God started to run.
I came to a section in the book where, after Vincent shared the gospel with a group of Masai, a man approached him and asked if he would speak with his son Ole Sikii. The son did not know God, yet he was very pious. Ole Sikii often led his tribe in prayers and ceremonies to a god he believed existed but didn’t know. The son desired to see and to know this god more than anything else.
The father told Vincent how his son had desperately pursued God (Engai) right up to His doorstep, but had been left alone:
A few days walk from his village there was a volcano called Oldono L’Engai (Mountain of God); it was believed to be the home of God. This mountain erupted regularly and with plenty of warning. Locals believed the eruptions were the result of God striking out. Villagers who lived close to the volcano often journey a safe distance away when the rumbling began. It was during one of these minor evacuations that Ole Sikii decided he would go to the home of God so he could see the face of God (Engai). As others walked away from the mountain, Ole Sikii walked towards it. He took very little food and water with him because he intended to fast much of his journey. In hope of seeing the face of Engai he climbed to the edge of the crater and spent three days staring down into the ominous mouth of violence and fire. After three sleepless days and nights, with hardly any water or food, Ole Sikii gave up and returned home. The face of God had eluded him yet again. Depressed and brokenhearted he wondered what else he could do to see the face of God.
The father brought Vincent to his son and they began to talk. Vincent said to the son:
“Ole Sikii, you have tried as hard as a man can try. You left your father and family and home and went in search of God up that terrible mountain. You tracked and followed him to his lair, like a lion tracks a wildebeest. But all this time he has been tracking you. You did not send for me or look me up. I was sent to you. You thought you were searching for Engai. All this time he has been searching for you. God is more beautiful and loving than you even imagined. He hungered for you, Ole Sikii. Try as we might, we cannot drag God down from the heavens. He is already here. He has found you. In truth, Ole Sikii, we are not the lion looking for God. God is the lion looking for us. Believe me, the lion is God.”
These words struck me like a warm wave flooding through my spirit. I wept. It was as if God was speaking the words into the depths of my soul, into a place so private and intimate even I am unable to access it. The truth that my God is a God who runs after me, who hungers after me, who is not far off but is pressing in, devastated me. I was struck down, and when I stood up I was without my fear and loneliness. Though I was not yet complete, I was no longer lost or broken.
As I write this several months later, I am still in Africa and I still don’t know where I will be in a year. I’ve let go of most of the hopes and expectations society expects us to reach for. If the incarnation of those hopes come to me I’ll be okay with it, but I’m not looking for them, at least not now. The reality of the searching seeking Father, the one who runs to his children, is an overwhelming concept when grasped by those He calls His own. God found me in that hotel room because he was looking for me. He didn’t reveal to me my future, direct me where to go, or tell me what to do. He came to me when I was lost and broken and searching, and He said, “You are not the lion who has been hunting Me, I am the Lion who hunts you. I am the Father who is even now running.” This story isn’t about me it’s about God. The plot doesn’t depend on me making the right steps or following the right paths; it depends on God. The good news is our God is a God who hungers, our God runs.