The soundtrack for this post: Jeremy Messersmith – Miracles.
Reading the first third of Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son reminded me of a vividly broken period in my life. As a boy, I grew up in the church. My parents were missionaries in Ivory Coast and France, and yet my experience of Christ was, for the most part, second-hand and indirectly experienced via my parents.
In my mid-teens, life was in upheaval. Every aspect of my life was experiencing some sort of angst. My father is a gentle man. In the midst of tears and utter confusion, he silently pulled me into his arms and held me. This is something I will never forget for the rest of my life. I heard the story of the Prodigal Son as a child. I even read about it in Confirmation class. But it was not until my father embraced me in such a profoundly gentle and calming way, that I experienced that love of the Father first-hand.
Throughout my growing up years, formation in college, ebbs and flows of marriage and ministry, I have been en route, on a journey somewhere. There are days when I am utterly fatigued and find myself so far gone that I question my own call to pastor.
Most pastors probably have the running internal monologue that says, “if people only knew how messed up I really am, they’d never trust/follow/listen/respect me.” It’s in this insecurity that I found myself a year ago, in the throws of ministry and having to walk away from ministry as a worship pastor.
It was exactly what I needed to return home. My identity was wrapped up in performance and pleasing my boss. Transparency dwindled to a flicker and my faith was a professional persona.
Every time Nouwen spoke about this issue of control, I felt my pulse quicken, as if he was about to step out of the pages, sit next to me and tell me that I cannot control who loves me or how they choose to show their love (pg. 40). This rocks me to the core.
My wife and I packed up our belongings with our 2 kids and moved back to the Twin Cities. Here, we began a long spiritual journey and understanding that we need to be in a faith community where “it is okay to not be okay.” Eventually we stumbled on a church plant that was just in conception and thus the road to deep spiritual healing began. Another “returning home” for my spiritual journey.
As I reflect on my personal and professional life, I realize that in knowing, not only that I can return to the Father, but that the Father is for me and that he is expecting me with open arms. He is thrilled that I am alive, even in the midst of my heart wandering far away. It is in knowing this that Paul’s words to the church at Rome resonate all the more clearly: “nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:38-39).”
And so today and every day is an opportunity to come “home.” I want everyday to live in the reality of my sonship. When I do this, I live in the abundant life afforded by Christ’s life, death and resurrection. When I do this, those around me are offered a glimpse of what it means to come home and return to the Father.
Check out Henri Nouwen’s book: The Return of the Prodigal Son. A book inspired by Rembrandt’s painting and a story told by Jesus.