I recently finished Henri Nouwen's The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming. As with his The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society, it's a short book that packs in a lot. I read it slowly and am glad I did.
I have long identified with the story of the prodigal son, with a large part of my life's story being like that of the wayward son. The first thing that the book made me realize is that now in my life I am much more like the stern elder brother, disapproving of someone getting "off" with the gift of grace, and expecting my hard efforts to earn me more "worth" and recognition. All that lost wandering was fine for me in my youth, but you people need to straighten up! When did I become such a stick?
Even more radically, however, Nouwen made me realize the next step in the journey is to become the father, ready to forgive, accept and bless both sons! That still has me thinking. As Nouwen says near the end of the book, "It is comfortable to be the wayward younger son or the angry elder son." Indeed, more comfortable and far less challenging than being the patient, waiting, forgiving father. Especially since part of that waiting includes the knowledge that a "child" may never turn around and come home, or not in time, but all a father (figure) can do is wait and hope and pray.
A few quotes from the book:
Here is the God I want to believe in: a Father who, from the beginning of creation, has stretched out his arms in merciful blessing, never forcing himself on anyone, but always waiting; never letting his arms drop down in despair, but always hoping that his children will return so that he can speak words of love to them and let his tired arms rest on their shoulders. His only desire is to bless. (pages 95-96)
This "stepping over" is the authentic discipline of forgiveness. Maybe it is more "climbing over" than "stepping over." Often I have to climb over the wall of arguments and angry feelings that I have erected between myself and all those whom I love but who so often do not return that love. It is a wall of fear of being used or hurt again. It is a wall of pride, and the desire to stay in control. But every time that I can step or climb over that wall, I enter into the house where the Father dwells, and there touch my neighbor with genuine compassionate love. (page 130)
I don't want to stay home while everyone else goes out, whether driven by their many desires or their many angers. I feel these same impulses and want to run around like others do! But who is going to be home when they return - tired, exhausted, excited, disappointed, guilty, or ashamed? Who is going to convince them that, after all is said and done, there is a safe place to return to and receive an embrace? If it is not I, who is it going to be? (page 138)Good stuff. Recommended