Faith: The Return of the Prodigal




What do you associate with the word home? A person or a place perhaps? Somewhere in which there is a strong sense of welcome and belonging? What then when life goes pear shaped, or we make a choice which leads us down a road to lostness and loneliness? Don’t we just long to be home? it’s almost as if we are programmed with a need to head back to the familiar, to what represents security, no matter what the reason for our leaving in the first place.

Sadly, there is a generation of young people growing up who have left home because it wasn’t a good place to be. Their feeling of lostness must be greatly amplified.

I first read Henri Nouwen’s book The Return of the Prodigal in the mid nineties. With a subtitle of A Story of Homecoming I immediately connected with the theme. The book is centred around the story of the Prodigal Son which Jesus told. Nouwen discovers much about himself as he sits and looks at the original Rembrandt painting based on that story. Little did he know what a journey of discovery would take place in his own heart.

As Nouwen examines the three principal characters in the story, he can identify with the younger son in his desire to leave behind safety and security, strike out on his own, and subsequently squander the inheritance his father gives him. He can also identify with the elder son’s anger and self-righteousness at seeing what he regards as his faithfulness overlooked by the father, whilst his younger brother’s waywardness is seemingly celebrated.

But he also draws out the nature of the compassionate father, who loves both sons equally. Nouwen realises that he needs to go beyond identifying with either of the sons, and to move away from adolescent desire for independence and sibling rivalries, and to become a welcoming father himself to others.

Neuwen is very honest about his own inner struggles and failings as he looks at the two sons. About his own journey Neuwen writes: The farther I run away from the place where God dwells, the less I am able to hear the voice that calls me Beloved, and the less I hear that voice, the more entangled I become in the manipulations and power games of the world.

Speaking of the younger son Neuwen writes: Once he had come again in touch with the truth of his sonship, he could hear, although faintly, the voice calling him the Beloved and feel, although distantly, the touch of blessing. This awareness of, and confidence in, his father’s love, misty as it may have been, gave him the strength to claim for himself his sonship, even though that claim could not be based on any merit.

It’s all too easy for us to wander off to distant lands, squander our inheritance and then feel a sense of disconnection and disappointment. This book is a reminder that our heavenly father still looks out every day, hoping his kids will come back home.

The Return of The Prodigal by Henri Nouwen is published by Dartman, Longman and Todd.

Main Photo Credit: Alejandro Luenjo via Unsplash

Bob Fraser

Bob Fraser is a singer-songwriter, men’s group leader and Regional Director for CVM aiming to open up conversations about life and faith.

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