I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found. Why do I keep ignoring the place of true love and persist in looking for it elsewhere? Why do I keep leaving home where I am called a child of God, the Beloved of my Father?”
The quote above is taken from Henri Nouwen’s book, The Return of the Prodigal Son. I first read this book last summer. I’m re-reading it this summer. My copy is full of yellow highlights and at least 10 pages are permanently dog-earred so they can easily be referenced (yes, I’m one of those kind of readers; every spine of every book I own is cracked and if it’s a book I like then it’s almost always full of underlined and highlighted passages).
This particular book has challenged me in so many ways. I see myself in the Nouwen’s understanding of both the prodigal son and the elder brother. And, I see who I want to be in the way he writes about the Father.
I can identify with the quote above. I am the prodigal in many ways. I haven’t necessarily wandered away from my faith or “intentionally” turned my back on Father and the family of God. But I do see a tendency in me, a pull. The world around me offers exciting and tempting ways to spend my God-given gifts (my time, talents, treasures and thoughts). These temptations often appeal to my need to be loved, to feel important, to feel useful and productive. Some of those tempting distractions are Godly activities but they aren’t necessarily where I’m supposed to be. And yet the pull is there, tempting me to meet my needs in the flesh instead of trusting in and relying on my Father. Sometimes it is a daily struggle and I know my Father is always waiting for me convert to my heart, thoughts and my will to Him.
If I were to change this passage by Nouwen at all it would be to add a word or phrase or two. It might read like this:
I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love and my identity and worth where it cannot be found. Why do I keep ignoring the place of true love, fulfillment and peace and persist in looking for it in places, activities and people where it does not exist? Why do I keep wandering off to a “distant country” to squander my time, talents, treasures and thoughts on things I do not need and on things my Father would not approve? Why do I keep leaving home where I am called a child of God, the Beloved of my Father?”
In what ways do you have prodigal son tendencies? Have you squandered some of the gifts the Father has given you on worldly distractions? Have you looked for love, acceptance and fulfillment in the wrong places — your work, relationships, accomplishments? Have you forgotten who you are, His beloved son or daughter, and left home, wandering off to build your identity and self-worth in the flesh? Do you know your compassionate Father awaits your return?