It took me 50 years to realize it’s never too late to seek God.
In the beautiful story of the prodigal son (Luke 15), never was it more apparent to me that God the Father loves and forgives all. God’s love for us is unconditional, regardless of what we’ve done. And it’s never too late to seek God and ask for forgiveness — even when you believe you’re not worthy.
I met three men who learned this lesson the hard way, and helped they me see these truths, too. Their journeys toward becoming who God meant them to be are dramatically different. Yet their destinations were the same, and their stories all proclaim the same undeniable truth: God’s love for us is everlasting.
Bill became disillusioned with the church as a teenager studying in seminary. He’s in his late 60s now, and if you ask him to explain the root of his dissatisfaction, he’ll struggle to recall what exactly transpired 50 years ago to push him away from the faith. Through his confusion and struggles, he eventually abandoned his dream to enter the priesthood. And he turned his back on the church and his faith.
Bill, an academic, spent his adult life as a college professor. Over time, he’d constructed walls built on the resentment he developed decades earlier. Even after marrying a devout woman when he was in his 30s, the barriers he carefully nurtured grew stronger, and his disillusionment became apathy. He remained a believer, but he was steadfast in his resolve to seek God outside the church.
In 2016, after strong encouragement from friends, Bill agreed to attend a church retreat sponsored by his wife’s parish. His interest was purely academic; Bill fully expected to quickly revalidate his bitterness. For two days he sat quietly, his mind processing what he saw and heard. Even as his devoted wife prayed for him each day of the retreat, by the end of the weekend he had become even more convinced the decision he made over 40 years before was the right one.
Then something incredible happened. Bill can’t explain his sudden transformation other than to say God suddenly opened his eyes to the truth, much like what happened to the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection (see Luke 24). The walls Bill had so carefully reinforced over four decades crumbled and fell, and for the first time since he was a child, he saw clarity and truth.
I had the privilege of being with him at the retreat when the Holy Spirit suddenly came upon him, and I will always remember the light that filled his eyes when his hope was restored.
Bill is now an actively involved in his church, including retreats, Bible studies and nursing home ministries. After so many years of darkness, the beauty of the faith from decades before is again alive in his heart.
Lee was born in Beijing, China, and spent the first 20 years of his life living in a country ruled by a communist regime. He is the son of intellectuals, both professors at universities in China in the 1960s. As a child, he witnessed harsh public beatings and executions that were part of the government’s attempt to suppress Christians and intellectuals who didn’t follow Mao’s teachings.
For several years, Lee lived in a labor camp where his parents had been imprisoned for their intellectual ideologies that didn’t align with communist beliefs. Each morning his parents left him in their spartan two-room cell to go perform hard labor. Lee lived in constant fear that one day they would not return, and he would be alone.
At the age of 21, he fled China with $42 in his pocket and a desperate desire to escape the oppression he had lived with for over 20 years. Though he spoke little English, he found creative ways to provide for his education and eventually earned a doctorate in psychology. But even as he achieved academic and professional success, he struggled with post traumatic stress disorder from the nightmares he was exposed to as a child.
Lee spent the next two decades pursuing happiness and peace to replace the darkness that followed him since leaving China. His journey took him to distant lands, exploring over a dozen religions and cults. But with each step he took, hope that he would ever find what he was seeking flickered until he succumbed to a deep depression that almost drove him to take his own life.
My path intersected with Lee’s in 2016, when he and I were attending RCIA, a class for people interested in learning more about our faith. He told me he had prepared to surrender to death, believing it would give him greater peace than he had received in this world. After praying for an end to his darkness, he found himself sitting in front of his laptop late one evening, when on a church website he saw artwork of Jesus’ body cradled tenderly in Mary’s arms. Lee suddenly knew he was being called. After a long trek across five continents, experiencing both Christian and pagan cultures, Lee had finally come home.
At Easter in 2016, I walked in a procession through the church next to Lee and 11 other new believers who were baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. I watched as he stood in the pale light of the chapel and wept tears of gratitude and relief. I knew, at that moment, he had reached the end of his journey.
José Couldn’t Leave
I met José one night in a parking lot of a Christian retreat facility as we directed cars for a ladies’ retreat. That evening he told me his story.
José was born in Monterrey, Mexico, the son of devout Catholic parents. His father died when he was a small boy, leaving José’s mother to raise him and his three sisters. When he was 10 he became involved with a local gang, and by the time he was 14, he had advanced in rank and made more money in two weeks than his mother could in a year.
José led a harsh, dangerous life, and after being stabbed in a drug deal gone bad, he fled to the United States when he was 25. A drug addict with an extensive criminal history and a penchant for violence, he joined a gang in Texas and continued to live on the edge, just one step ahead of the law and other drug dealers.
Soon he was running from a rival gang who had a price on his head for stealing drugs. He had no money, was homeless and afraid to seek shelter from any of his friends in fear of being found. One day his cousin suggested he attend a men’s retreat. José laughed.
“My Catholic days are long behind me,” he said. But his cousin persisted.
“What do you have to lose? You’ll have a roof over your head for three nights, food to eat, and I’ll pay your way.”
José considered the offer carefully. Desperation had begun to set in, and the idea of having a temporary refuge from the perils that waited for him out in the world appealed to him. He accepted his cousin’s generosity, but planned to leave the retreat after two days to seek the familiar alleys which had been his home for weeks After breakfast, he distanced himself from the other men and started for the door. But then something deep within told him to stay. He didn’t understand the feeling and he tried to resist, but he found himself back with the group.
“God spoke to me,” José said. “I could suddenly see everything I had done wrong in my life. All the people I had hurt, the lives I had destroyed and the crimes I had committed. … And then God told me it would be OK.”
In the glow from the streetlamp above us, tears glistened in his eyes, and I, too, felt the incredible power of that moment in his life. I knew God’s promise to love and take care of him would always be kept.
Now, José is married and has a son. He works as a mechanic, and he and his family attend regularly attend church. José has also reunited with his mother, who faithfully waited for him all those volatile years of his life, doing the only thing she could do — ask the Lord for His blessing for her son.
Never Too Far Gone
Each of these men had given up hope. They were convinced their sins were too damning, their dreams too unachievable, that it was too late for them to aspire for a joy that had eluded them. But now they know, even in struggles and suffering, God will always be there. Waiting. And loving.
“‘I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace,’ says the Sovereign Lord. ‘I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak.'” Ezekiel 34:15-16
Bob Blundell is a former mid-level manager who spent his career in the oil industry. Since retiring, he has rekindled his passion for writing. His work has been published in magazines such as The Bible Advocate, Liguorian, The Living Pulpit, and Torrid Literary Review. Bob and his wife Dee live in the Houston area.