I am reading my first Henri Nouwen book, The Return of the Prodigal Son. Nouwen was so moved by Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal that he spent hours gazing at it at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and obtained a copy so he could look at it frequently over the years.
I don’t understand Nouwen’s obsession with the painting, but it obviously moved him. I was moved by Nouwen’s reflections on the parable. The parable of the Prodigal Son invites us to see ourselves in the story as the wayward child or as the dutiful but resentful child of God. Nouwen saw himself as both sons and even as the welcoming father.
When I see myself in the story, it is as the prodigal, which seems odd because I am normally such an obedient person. But as a teenager, I yielded to temptation and began to wander away from God. I stopped going to church. I stopped reading the Bible. I continued to stay away from my spiritual home as a young adult, but like the Prodigal Son, I wasn’t satisfied with what the world had to offer. I missed my Father.
While I have always thought of leaving my Father’s home as a specific time in my past, Nouwen sees leaving as an ongoing spiritual struggle. Where is my home? To whom do I belong?
When we stray away from God, we deny that we belong to him completely. We live as if we belong to the world. We live as if we must look elsewhere to find a home.
Home is the center of my being where I can hear the voice that says: “You are my Beloved. On you my favor rests.”Henri Nouwen
Many of us long to hear God’s voice. Nouwen describes God’s voice as the voice of love that speaks from eternity. When I hear that voice, I am home.
When Jesus prayed for his disciples, he said, “they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.” In other words, we do not belong to the world. If we follow Jesus, our true home is with God.
I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.John 17:13-16
Every time we go elsewhere looking for love and acceptance, we stop hearing the voice that says we are Beloved. The voices of the world tell us that we must prove our worth. When I doubt my worthiness and goodness, I am listening to the voices of the world. Those voices can pull me away from my true home.
The world offers love conditionally. You are loved if you do this or that, if you are this or that. I will love you if you are successful. I will love you if you give me what I want.
Nouwen says that when you feel angry, resentful, jealous, or vengeful, it is a sign that you have left home. When you wonder why someone hurt you or rejected you or ignored you, you have left home and are seeking love and validation elsewhere.
I can really relate to what Nouwen had to say about seeking love and acceptance from the world. How often have I been filled with doubts about whether I am good enough based on the world’s conditions? How often have I fretted about being rejected or ignored?
It is so easy to forget how much we are loved by our Father. He loves us unconditionally! His love is enough.