I love watching a city’s skyline as I descend on a plane. If you love to travel, you know what I’m talking about—that excitement of looking outside your window toward a new land. Now, I’ve flown to several countries, but I can tell you that none came close to the joy of seeing the U.S. and New York’s skyline for the first time when I was 14. It was very, very special.

It’s hard not to feel that way when the promise of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness beckons and you’re at the brink of entering it. Indeed, I don’t think I’m the only one who has felt this. Imagine the destitute, Caribbean-born Hamilton seeing from aboard his ship the shores of Boston for the first time, or perhaps your own ancestors from aboard theirs, seeking to claim their unalienable rights. Today, every year, millions are still leaving their homes for this land. And when I arrived in Philadelphia, a vibrant immigrant haven since the days of William Penn, I realized I was but one in those millions, searching for the same ideals.

Never did I picture ending up where I was a decade later. Much has happened since then, but concisely I was fighting an onerous mission to realize “success,” sacrificing my health, relationships, and even integrity along the way. Of course, then, I wouldn’t admit to chasing something as base as the American dream, but that’s what I did. And although outwardly I “succeeded,” inwardly I was foundering, and in culmination one night an inexplicable siege of fear, anxiety, and hopelessness flooded into my life. Depression. Sheol. Dementors. It goes by different names, and it is antithetical to life, liberty, or happiness.

“Philip, can you tell me, all that toil at school, work, and church—what exactly were you looking for?” asked a counselor. I paused for a moment. Frankly, I no longer knew. If anything, I’d just learned the painful lesson that no life can be found in the security of a well-paying job, nor liberty in being a citizen of the land of the free, nor happiness in achievements, approval, prestige, or respect that I’d lived for (and had much of).

Deciding I needed my family’s support through this season, I repatriated. This time the view from my plane seat was that of my childhood home, and waiting for me was my dad, elated by my return. So happy, in fact, that he threw me a welcome back party. And in the following days he insisted on doing very servile things like making my breakfast or doing my laundry. “He’ll stop eventually,” I reasoned. Yet he still does it today.

One night, as I sat on my bed dejected, I looked at my old wardrobe, which my dad had repainted himself as he was waiting for my return. I then scanned around my newly renovated room, which he’d finished for me. “What have I done for him?” I asked. Many times I’d ignored his texts and emails, and while I was chasing my dreams, I’d simply forgotten about him. But then it dawned on me: my performance didn’t matter to him. I am loved unconditionally. And ever so slightly, I felt it: a trickle of life.

Have you ever experienced something like this? I’ll bet that there is at least one person in your life, who may have been at the receiving end of your brokenness (frequently perhaps), but loved you regardless. As difficult as relationships with people can sometimes be, life is much better with them than without. One of my friends reflected: “Yeah, I realize whenever I’m with my family, I’m more myself. My childlike side comes out, and I feel free to joke around and act silly.” Indeed, being freely loved is what makes us most alive and happy, and in relationships where we find such love, we also find our home and freedom, where things such as performance or approval count
for naught.

Can you imagine being loved by the perfectly unconditional love of God? The God that throws us a party whenever we return to him. The God that became our servant and washed our feet. Have we betrayed him like Peter did? He makes us breakfast while he waits for us at the shore. Dirty laundry? Before we even ask he pours his own blood and washes us permanently clean. None of our successes or failures matter. All he gave freely, that we may know that we are infinitely loved, and in that love we can find our true and eternal life,
liberty, and happiness.

© 2023 Tenth Presbyterian Church.

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Philip Maniscola. © 2023 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org