First off HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope and pray that 2017 is much better than 2016 for this world and for those who had a terrible 2016.
So today I want to talk about a book that truly changed my life, my faith and my heart. A few days ago I mentioned that I would be doing a mini-series discussing some of the books that I have read by Henri Nouwen. I decided to start with the book that completely shook my faith and brought me into the embrace of God in a way I had no clue was possible. Nouwen’s, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, was suggested to me way back in May 2016 by a dear friend and mentor. I didn’t have time to read The Return of the Prodigal Son then but a few months later in September I found myself still stuck in a really bad spiritual crisis so I returned to the email and read through this lovely human’s suggestions.
The email was long and stock full of incredible author and book suggestions but it is what he said about The Return of the Prodigal Son that stuck out to me. My dear friend wrote, “Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal is among the best books I’ve ever read. Probably had a lot to do with where I was at the time, but it is deep and utterly redemptive.” This dear friend is incredibly well read and for him to say that it was one of the best books he had ever read struck a cord with me. I had dabbled with Nouwen before and found his writing to be beautiful and relatable, so I gave it a try.
In desperate need of some spiritual guidance I downloaded The Return of the Prodigal Son praying that Nouwen would say something my thirsty soul and cold heart could digest. Just as my friend said, I found The Return of the Prodigal to be amongst one of the best books I have ever read (to borrow his words) and it did have a lot to do with where I was. My posts in this last year reflect, on a minor level, a soul that was darkened by discouragement, fear, anxiety, heartache and a heart that was hardened towards God and her call. I distinctly remember a conversation I had with one of my favorite people, at this time I was still only in the first few pages of The Return of the Prodigal, and I sobbed to her crying, “I am just so scared I am going to lose my faith.”
These words were uttered by a woman who was tired, hungry for God’s redeeming love and nourishment. I wrote a post not too long after that beautifully difficult conversation, this post reflected the hurt, fear, confusion and anxiety I was experiencing and it caused a lot of wonderful people to worry about me. (The post is ‘The Prodigal Son’ from September 2016, if you feel you need to go read it). That post was my first in months, inspired by Nouwen’s beautiful and honest words, my heart was able to admit to myself and my readers that I was struggling and in desperate need to go home to God. I described it as a “deep sense of homesickness for my God and for the easy communication we always had.”
As I wrote and put into words the state of my heart and my feelings I read Nouwen’s reassurances that I am God’s Beloved and God’s favor rests upon me. As I let Nouwen’s words and reassurances wrap around my heart I found that God was healing my heart.
The Return of the Prodigal Son was inspired by Rembrandt’s painting which depicts the famous scene in which a son who has strayed and become lost returns home and embraced by his loving and grace filled father. Nouwen was deeply affected by this painting and he spent time meditating upon it and ended up crafting a stunning book about returning home, returning to God.
The book is divided into three parts: The Younger Son, The Elder Son and The Father. Nouwen goes through the parable in stages. He uses the painting and the parable as overarching themes in which he connects his experiences, Rembrandt’s experiences and the younger son, older son and the father’s experiences. The heart of the parable is love. The parable reminds us that God continues to pursue us and will always welcome us home, no matter how far we have strayed. Nouwen’s words, his descriptions and his analysis wove an image in my heart and my mind. After the post, which revealed how torn up my heart was, I suddenly found myself limping home.
All I can tell you is that God used Nouwen and his beautifully crafted words to bring me home. As I turned the corner on the street I saw God waiting on the front porch to smother me in an warm and loving embrace. In my most vulnerable moment, the moment I sobbed that I was afraid I would lose my faith; God came, rescued me from the depths of despair, took me home and smothered me with love and grace.
My friend put it best, “Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal is among the best books I’ve ever read.” It may be such a fantastic and faith changing book due to the time, place and state of my heart in which I read it– but I don’t believe it was an accident that I picked up The Return of the Prodigal Son. I believe whole heartedly that it was a gift that could only come from God. Whether Divine intervention or not, I praise God for Nouwen, Rembrandt, my mentor, the parable and the incredible healing that came from this book.
If you are lost, scared and unsure of whether you can return home I strongly suggest this book. I am sure that Nouwen’s words and his reassurances will remind you of who you belong and who says, “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests” (Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son p. 37).
Describing what true homecoming is Nouwen beautifully states that, “‘coming home’ meant, for me, walking step by step toward the One who awaits me with open arms and wants to hold me in an eternal embrace” (The Return of the Prodigal Son, p. 6).
My beautiful friends, I hope that you are able to go home this year. I pray that you turn that corner and see God waiting with arms stretched wide open, welcoming you home into her loving embrace. May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Peace, Joy, Blessings and ALL MY LOVE,
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!