cont’ The Return of the Prodigal Son

June 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

I have just finished reading this book by Nouwen, and I think this is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Nouwen’s special touch is that he isn’t moralistic. Instead, he honestly admits his shortcomings and his struggles, many of which I heartily identify with.

Now I’m not sure for others, but this approach really works for me. Before I listen to the advice of others, I want to be convinced that they have gone through what I’m going through and understand where I’m coming from. He seems to understand. He then goes on to suggest a path out, but doesn’t imply that it is going to be easy. Rather, it is going to be a discipline. But still I find myself holding on to the book, ready to listen. As a writer, that guy just has a way with me, something not easy because I’m someone who has been labelled most stubborn and wilful.

To cut to the chase, there is a raving elder son in me. It is no fun being the elder son. He is one who has been hurt and allowed resentment to build up. Perhaps I’m not explicitly jealous of any ‘younger brother’, but the calculating attitude and the resentment in the elder son I definitely see in me. In some of my relationships, if I feel I’m giving more than receiving, I become resentful and no longer find joy in sustaining the friendship. I haven’t actually let go of any of these friendships. As such, I am the elder son, who seems to be at home, but interiorly, has wandered quite some way off. I can’t bear to leave home, yet also, in some ways I have already left because of my resentment.

Nouwen suggests a discipline of trust and gratitude. He says I need to trust that God wants to find me and bring me out of this resentments which are causing me much pain:

“Without trust, I cannot let myself be found. Trust is that deep inner conviction that the Father wants me home. As long as I doubt that I am worth finding and put myself down as less loved than my younger brothers and sisters, I cannot be found. I have to keep saying to myself, “God is looking for you. He will go anywhere to find you. He loves you, he wants you home, he cannot rest unless he has you with him” ‘ 

Part of me, the darker side of me, says that Jesus has only come for the tax collectors and prostitutes, not for me, who sometimes in my judgemental attitudes seem closer to the Pharisees than the tax collectors. Nouwen also understands this, and as such what he has advocated is not simply trust, but a discipline of trust.

Next, he suggests a discipline of gratitude. Again, it is a discipline because it is difficult to overcome resentment with gratitude. But while reading the book, I tried thinking of things to be grateful for, and it really did work. It made me much happier too. It’s a bit difficult at first, but you just have to keep finding even the tiny-est little thing that you can be grateful for. There is a silver lining in every cloud. The task is to keep looking at the silver lining until the cloud doesn’t really matter anymore. That is how the light of gratitude overcomes and engulfs the darkness of resentment.

Although Nouwen sees himself in the younger and elder sons, it is the father he is called to be. What is this father like? I find myself amused. I think of a bread which has one raisin. If God is eating that raisin bread, he would rejoice over that one raisin. It doesn’t really matter that there should be more raisins because when you bought it, you bought it expecting it to be filled with raisins. He is a God who rejoices over the littlest things:

“But God rejoices when one repentant sinner returns. Statistically, that is not very interesting. But for God, numbers never seem to matter…From God’s perspective, one hidden act of repentance, one little gesture of selfless love, one moment of true forgiveness is all that is needed to bring God from his throne to run to his returning son and to fill the heavens with sounds of divine joy.”

Sure, Nouwen says, there is alot of pain and suffering going on. Being joyful is not overlooking these:

“People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness.”

Nouwen urges us to, between the choices between cynicism and joy we face every day, to choose the latter.

Reading the book, and reflecting on my attitudes recently, I realise I have forgotten to choose joy over cynicism. Now that I realise this, I feel myself moving one step away from fear and towards love.

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