In the United States alone, according to runawayswitchboard.org, there are 1.3 million homeless youth on the streets. The data is difficult to collect due to differences in reporting between agencies. However, between 2003 and 2008, it was reported there was a 200% increase in homeless youth on the streets.
What causes us to leave home? With the exception of those persons living under deplorable, abusive or life-threatening conditions, what compels us to leave the familiar warmth, comfort and safety of home and family for the unknown?
Several websites devoted to creating awareness of this growing problem and supporting runaway teens tell us that 47% report conflict with a parent or guardian as the reason for leaving home.
The most famous runaway of all times is the fictional character in the bible known only as “The Prodigal Son” who left a life of wealth and privilege for the adventure of the open road. After blowing all the money from the inheritance he had demanded from his father, he found himself homeless, experiencing pain and suffering and wishing he could eat as well as the pigs he fed to make money.
What was he thinking?
To give him credit the Prodigal Son did come to his senses and made his way back home where, much to his shock and gratitude, he was welcomed with open arms and allowed to return to the fold. He was forgiven.
But what urges drove him to make this journey in the first place?
He wanted to find himself, to discover his individuality and test the limits of his ability to survive outside of the confines of family and home. In other words, he wanted to prove he could do it.
In a way, this is our story; this is the story of all humans when as souls we leave the comfort and safety of the Unmanifest Realm—referred to as Heaven, the Allness or Nirvana by various traditions—and set out on this journey called humanity in this place called Earth or the Manifest Realm of existence. Sometimes we, too, find ourselves living in fear and pain and suffering and must come to ourselves (our senses) and find our way back to the realization of who we are and whose we are.
Why would we want to make this journey? Since we are, what can we learn from the Prodigal Son? What is home and how do we get back there? After putting forth so much effort to leave why do we then work so hard to get back there?
The dictionary defines home as a place where a person, family or household lives together; however, when I think of the word home it always takes me back to one of my all-time favorite musicals, The Wiz. The main character, Dorothy, who is desperately attempting to get back home to Kansas, sings of her longing by describing what home is for her:
When I think of home, I think of a place where there is love overflowing. I wish I was there. I wish I was back there, to a place I’ve been knowing…
From Dorothy’s perspective, home is a place of love—constant, continuous and “overflowing.” In her song is the evident longing to get back to a place where she has known a love like no other. Obviously, she is comparing it to what she has been experiencing along the way of that strange journey on which she found herself.
Could our reflections and memories of home be similar to Dorothy’s? What brought us to this strange journey called the Human Experience? If it was so wonderful, why did we leave home in the first place?
In Dorothy’s case, it was a tornado that tossed her into the illusion of having left home. In our case it was a “forgetting” that tossed us into the illusion of separation from our Creator—our home—and sent us spiraling into a whirlwind of pain and suffering, chaos and confusion.
In Dorothy’s experience, she connected with a strange cast and crew of fellow travelers along her journey home who taught her many things about herself, helped her find her way to the Wizard and, ultimately, home. She had to discover that she had always had all that she needed within her to get home. It was a journey of self-discovery.
Interestingly, as she helped the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion find their intelligence, heart and courage, her own was awakened. As Radical Forgiveness points out: “If you spot it, you got it!” What we see in others is merely a reflection of what is within us. As Dorothy saw the power in her new friends, her own power was awakened.
In our case, we daily connect with all of the characters in the drama we have created to support us in discovering who we are and help us find our way to our Wizard, our Divinity. Our work is to discover that the power to go home is and has always been within us the whole time.
Unlike Dorothy, we left home to experience ourselves as the light in the midst of our illusion of darkness. You might say that we are the Prodigal Children. Like the Prodigal Son of the Bible, we were not content to be in a heavenly state as spiritual beings; we wanted to experience ourselves as spiritual beings and in order to do that we had to experience the opposite of what we knew ourselves to be—we had to discover our true nature as we journeyed through pain and suffering.
To efficiently facilitate this learning experience, it was necessary to have what Colin Tipping calls spiritual amnesia to make the experience more real—what A Course in Miracles calls the forgetting. If, as Souls on this journey of experiences for the purpose of growth or evolution, we knew what was going on there would be no real experience. It is the emotional impact of these spiritual lessons that provides the greatest opportunity for growth and evolution.
In Teach Us To Pray, Charles and Cora Fillmore tell us:
What we all need is a better understanding of the principles at the very foundation of Being, of the spiritual character of God, and especially of the omnipresence of the spiritual principles. Then we need to understand our relation to these spiritual principles and what we have to do to make them operative in our mind and affairs .
Colin Tipping says, “We are not the victims of random acts of being in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time or having good or bad luck; our lives are purposeful and have meaning.” If this is true, then everything we encounter along this journey is pointing to a meaningful outcome. This must, then, give us some degree of comfort and may be the very impetus that inspires us to return home.
According to policemag.com, when it comes to runaways returning home:
About 20 percent of juveniles return home within the first 24 hours and 75 percent are home within a week. More determined runaways may engage in "couch surfing," staying with a number of different acquaintances for short periods of time. When these resources are exhausted, they usually head home or have no alternative but to head to the streets. Less than one percent of juvenile runaways never return home .
So we do return home; however, the journey is often fraught with challenges, stumbling blocks, uncertainty and frequently a great degree of pain and suffering. As we know from Dorothy’s attempts to get back to Kansas and as we will see from the experience of The Prodigal Son as he makes his Long Journey Home, both have similar experiences.
What is the journey? Why is it so long?
The Journey is the sum total of the experiences and processes of learning and growing we encounter as we step away from home through finding our way back. It is what changes us—what creates transformation and a shift in consciousness. It is not the walk in the “valley of the shadow of death” that makes a difference; it is what we discover as we walk through the “valley.”