Lent started for me, after having just finished reading The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen. Henri Nouwen’s reflection of Rembrandt painting is an amazing journey and a worthwhile read. My brief reflection doesn’t accurately portray the impact this book has had on my spiritual journey, yet I wanted to share two takeaways.
I grew up in a large close-knit family of 9 children. My older brother, for a period of 10 years was separated from our family. He was living out of state and was busy working. He missed several major family events such as the birth of several of my children, my Father’s 75 birthday and all the holidays. I was angry and hurt, but at the same time I also missed him. Honestly, I was also indignant that he wasn’t around to help our parents. I thought he didn’t care. Eventually, he came home around the time my dad was dying. During my dad’s final year my brother moved into their home, he rolled up his sleeves, opened up his heart and embraced all of their physical and emotional needs.
Having heard the Prodigal Son over the years and being in the midst of my brother being gone, I pictured myself as the elder brother. One day during his absence, I remember visiting my mom and watching her tears and pain about her one lost sheep, her son. At that time, I felt slighted and even annoyed that she would continue to care so deeply for him since he has not been around or even truly connected with us for over a decade. Sitting in front of my mom, I had a feeling of emptiness in heart and a wondering of why she wasn’t recognizing me. Henri Nouwen’s reflection brought those feelings to life for me, as well as the deeper internal pain I had experienced around that time.
“When I listen carefully to the words with which the elder son attacks his father ~~self-righteous, self-pitying, jealous words~~ I hear a deeper complaint. It is the complaint that comes from a heart that feels it never received what it was due. It is the complaint expressed in countless subtle and not-so-subtle ways, forming bedrock of human resentment. It is the complaint that cries out: “I tried so hard, worked so long, did so much, and still I have not received what others get so easily. Why do people not thank me, not invite me, not play with me, and not honor me, while they pay so much attention to those who take life so easily and so casually?”
I ordered a print of Rembrandt’s painting and it now hangs in our home, in a clear bright room over the piano. Fifteen years have passed since sitting in-front of my mother and now I sit before this painting. While I gaze on the younger son, the elder son and the father in this painting, I am mulling over Nouwen’s words and through my own prayer, I recognize I am also similar to the younger son.
“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? I am constantly surprised at how I keep taking the gifts God has given me ~~my health, my intellectual and emotional gifts~~ and keep using them to impress people, receive affirmation and praise, and compete for rewards, instead of developing them for the glory of God.”
Lent calls us into a time of prayer. In prayer as we get to know ourselves better, we gain a better understanding of God. Allowing God to transform our hearts is a gift.
This blog is based on the personal experiences and opinions of Peggy O’Flaherty. Any reproduction of the material in this blog may be used with written consent of the author by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is the Founder & President of Creating Space, LLC., a ministry helping people enrich their faith. Follow Peggy at www.creatingspaceinyourlife.com. Peggy O’Flaherty, is a certified spiritual director, public speaker, blog writer, wife and mother of five children. Her recent writing projects include:
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