Our reunion with the Father is a moment frozen in time, etched in our memories as the turning point of our lives—more than that, of our birth into a new life, one that would never end. Who could forget such a monumental occurrence?
And yet we sometimes do—maybe not the event itself, but the implications of it. As a result, the unconditional love and grace of the Father who forgave us and welcomed us home ceases to amaze us. Hardness sets in, and we forget who we are, as well as the purpose to which we have been called. And that is a tragedy of such magnitude we scarcely can begin to comprehend it.
There is only one way to assure ourselves that we will never take for granted the love that enabled us to escape the pigpen and then welcomed us home from our rebellious journey—and that is never to lose sight of the pain that journey caused to the One who was left behind, waiting. Henri J. M. Nouwen, in The Return of the Prodigal Son, explained it this way:
The immense joy in welcoming back the lost son hides the immense sorrow that has gone before. The finding has the losing in the background, the returning has the leaving under its cloak. Looking at the tender and joy-filled return, I have to dare to taste the sorrowful events that preceded it. Only when I have the courage to explore in depth what it means to leave home, can I come to a true understanding of the return.[i]
As I meditate on those words, I cannot help but relive my own moment of revelation when I realized that my hardened, wandering heart had the power to crush the very heart of God. It is at the point of understanding the immense depth of the Father’s love—and His sorrow at our not returning that love—that our hearts are sealed to His. But the moment we cease to listen to the beating of His heart, our own drifts off on another journey, back to the far country, away from the Father and into the pigsty. For the leaving comes so much easier to us than the returning….
[i] Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal (NY: Image Books, Doubleday, 1994), pp. 34-35.