Over a year ago, our dear friend, Donna Autry (some of you know her!) called one day and told us she knew of another dog that needed a home. Zachary has a very soft spot in his heart for dogs, so naturally, we went to Donna’s, picked him up, brought him home, fell in love with him, and a sweet bond developed. He was a beautiful little dog – part Shih Tzu and part Bichon Frise. Soon, it became evident, that he was a playful, yet sometimes defiant little creature. We have a chain-link fence surrounding the two acres of our property, and we try to provide a fun, safe, free-running space for our dogs. So, why any of them would want to escape to explore the world outside our fence is hard for me to understand! But, Bentley was “bent” on seeing what was beyond, and he escaped out our front gate every chance he got.
Most of his escapades would happen when I was home alone, as I would open the front gate to back the car out and leave. It was like a fun, little game to him. He would run out the gate, stop at the end of our driveway, turn around and look at me with his big, adventurous eyes, and then he would bolt down the road in hopes that I would chase after him. At first, I played his little game. I would yell his name, he would turn around repeatedly and look to see if I was following, then he would run down our road as fast as his little legs would carry him, with me panting and gasping not too far behind him! Needless to say, I tired of this “fun” pretty quickly, and each time I returned him safely to our driveway frustrated, I would make a mental promise never to do it again.
One Wednesday evening, my sweet husband was at work, and Zachary had gone to spend the day with his Nana. I was home alone, and it was time to leave for church. Bentley saw a golden opportunity for freedom, so he bolted out the gate when I opened it. I looked at him and watched as he played his little game. He reached the end of our driveway, turned, cocked his cute, little head, and looked at me as if to say, “Come on, chase me, let’s play our game”. I started to call after him, and go along with it, when something in me just made me decide to let him go. After all, how many times had I done this? I was tired of chasing after him, tired of his rebellion, tired of looking completely silly chasing this little black blur down the street! For a few seconds, an inward struggle took place, as I thought of the consequences of not making sure he was safely back inside before I left. I felt a tug at my heart, while my better judgment said, “just go on, let him go, he’s made his choice, you’ll be late for church”. So, I left. I saw him in my rearview mirror, looking at me, puzzled, as if to say, “Where are you going? Why aren’t you chasing me?” After a moment, he made his choice and turned and ran in the opposite direction of home.
That is the last time I saw little Bentley alive. When Zachary and I returned from church that night, I saw all of the other dogs coming to greet us at the gate…but not Bentley. Once before, I hadn’t chased after him, and when I had returned later, he had come back and somehow wiggled his way under the gate to safety. This time, he was no where to be seen. Zachary began to look for him, and beside our mailbox along the street, there laid a furry, little, black heap. Bentley had rebelled one too many times. By the direction he was headed, it appeared he was on his way back home to try to wiggle back inside the gate. This time he didn’t make it. This time his choice cost him his life.
We all have a free will. Most of us love adventure, and most of us have taken a lot of reckless spiritual chances. How many times have we walked away from God’s will and the safety of His pavilion, only for His precious Spirit to pursue after us, and bring us back within His fold? How many times has He looked at us with frustration, but the great love in His Father-heart has compelled Him to follow us…one…more…time? And how many times have we returned with shame and crept back on our own, only to find that He still loved us and we were still wanted at home? Each time we strayed, we would find His arms open to welcome us, a ring waiting to be placed on our finger, and the fatted calf on stand-by for the homecoming feast.
I could have run after Bentley that evening. I could have finally overtaken him and forced him, kicking and squealing, to come back home. But, that time I left the choice to him. I let him go.
Do you know God loves us enough to let us make our own choices? Just like the father in today’s passage. He let his prodigal son leave, he waited until he got sick of his sinful lifestyle, then he forgave and welcomed him back home. We have our own mind, and God respects that. After all, He gave it to us. He wants us to serve Him because we love Him…because we WANT to serve Him. He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’ II Peter 3:9 (KJV). He paid a GREAT price to make a way for us to live with Him throughout eternity. But, ultimately, my friend, like Bentley, the choice is left to you and me.