Tag Archives: Henri Nouwen

The Older Son

For Holy Week, I’ve been re-reading The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen from Darton Longman Todd.

This is an immensely powerful book, based on Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son, and I would recommend it everyone.

Of course, every time you read a book, you are in a different place.

Part 1, The Younger Son, I got the succinct, yet powerful message,

Don’t look for your validation in the wrong places.

My response to part 2, The Older Son, was quite different:

Why is no one looking at me?
Why does no one see what I do?

 You’re all looking at him
That wastrel,
That waste of space.
He had his chance,
but he took off,
went the wrong way,
wasted all you gave him.

Yet when he comes crawling back,
you’re all over him.
Come in on,
have some nice clean clothes,
let’s have a party.

 Look at me.
Why does no one see me?
Why does no on say how precious I am?
I’ve been here all along.

 He escaped,
abandoned the family,
took his labour,
and half the wealth.
Yet still you want him.
What has he ever done to deserve it?

 Look at me.
You can see me can’t you?
Have I no value to you?
Am I inconsequential in this family?

 And yet,
I know I have worth,
I know what I do is good.
Yet my work doesn’t seem to be noticed.

 And so I am lost,
as lost as he was.
I am lost in the pain of rejection.
Oh, you may not be rejecting me,
but that is how it feels
when you fawn all over him,
big him up
– for doing what?
just coming home like he should?

And as I feel your rejection,
that I’m not good enough,
whatever I do;
I get caught up in self-rejection
and ultimately into resentment.

Resentment of how others are treated,
while I feel ignored.
Resentment that my efforts are not appreciated.
Resentment that my gifts are missed.

What about me?

Do you see me?

I respond in petulance
and anger,
I refuse to play along.
You have your celebration, but don’t expect me to join in
– you’ve never celebrated me…

 And then I hear those words,
“My Son, you are with me always
and all I have is yours”,

and I see that I have to let go.

That you see us all,
and welcome us all
– even me.

There is room in your heart
for each one of us,
we all have our unique place,
and every place is with you.

 There is no need for the comparison,
it is not a competition to win you love,
we all have your love.

Perhaps if I stop looking at “them”,
what they are doing,
how they should or shouldn’t be behaving,
how they are different to me,
how I feel you, or others,
treat them.

 If I can put away the years
of feeling not good enough,
stop re-playing the put downs,
look at the acceptances
not the rejections.

 If I can choose gratitude and trust.

 If I turn and look at you,
allow you to wrap your arms of love around me too,
look into your eyes
and nowhere else…

 Maybe then,
I too
can come home to your embrace,
and be bathed in your light.

 Then I too can know the joy of homecoming.

This was driven home by a phrase in Part 3, The Father,

The Father wants simply to let them know that the love they have searched for in such distorted ways has been, is , and always will be there for them (p96)

God longs to bless his deeply wounded sons and daughters.  He doesn’t measure us against anyone else, it is not a competition for his love and acceptance.  There is no comparison (p103).

God welcomes me home – and he welcomes you.  We are good enough.  We are treasured.  He is there, arms outstretched.  For me.  And for you.  What an immense privilege.

How am I to let myself be loved by God? (p106)


Home Coming

15 Tax collectors and sinners were all crowding around to listen to Jesus. So the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law of Moses started grumbling, “This man is friendly with sinners. He even eats with them.”

Two Sons

11 Jesus also told them another story:

Once a man had two sons. 12 The younger son said to his father, “Give me my share of the property.” So the father divided his property between his two sons.

13 Not long after that, the younger son packed up everything he owned and left for a foreign country, where he wasted all his money in wild living. 14 He had spent everything, when a bad famine spread through that whole land. Soon he had nothing to eat.

15 He went to work for a man in that country, and the man sent him out to take care of his pigs.16 He would have been glad to eat what the pigs were eating, but no one gave him a thing.

17 Finally, he came to his senses and said, “My father’s workers have plenty to eat, and here I am, starving to death! 18 I will go to my father and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against God in heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer good enough to be called your son. Treat me like one of your workers.’”

20 The younger son got up and started back to his father. But when he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt sorry for him. He ran to his son and hugged and kissed him.

21 The son said, “Father, I have sinned against God in heaven and against you. I am no longer good enough to be called your son.”

22 But his father said to the servants, “Hurry and bring the best clothes and put them on him. Give him a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 Get the best calf and prepare it, so we can eat and celebrate. 24 This son of mine was dead, but has now come back to life. He was lost and has now been found.” And they began to celebrate.

25 The older son had been out in the field. But when he came near the house, he heard the music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants over and asked, “What’s going on here?”

27 The servant answered, “Your brother has come home safe and sound, and your father ordered us to kill the best calf.” 28 The older brother got so angry that he would not even go into the house.

His father came out and begged him to go in. 29 But he said to his father, “For years I have worked for you like a slave and have always obeyed you. But you have never even given me a little goat, so that I could give a dinner for my friends. 30 This other son of yours wasted your money on prostitutes. And now that he has come home, you ordered the best calf to be killed for a feast.”

31 His father replied, “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we should be glad and celebrate! Your brother was dead, but he is now alive. He was lost and has now been found.”

The Prodigal Son, as this story is often called, is one of the most retold stories of the bible.  But it is more than a story of a son gone astray.

For this story of Jesus, there is little to be said, that is not said best by Henri Nouwen in his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, based on Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son.

This is the story of three people:

The Son

who thought he knew better and squandered what he had. Yet he realised what he’d done, knew his father would welcome him home and went back.  He didn’t expect to be treated like a son any more, but knew he was better off, even as a servant, in his father’s house.  He goes home, his speech of pleading and repentance prepared.  Yet he doesn’t need it.  His father runs to welcome him long before he gets there.

The Father

lets his son go, even knowing he will get things wrong.  Yet stands watching all the time waiting for him to return.  The father welcomes his son home, thrilled to see him.  There is no recrimination, no making his son grovel, no awkwardness – just a celebration that he has chosen to come back.

The Brother

not at all happy that his brother, the wastrel is home.  Even less happy that there is celebrating.  This isn’t fair, he has been a good son – stayed home, done his duty – yet no one is celebrating him.  His anger and jealousy stop him seeing the good news that his brother has returned.

Jesus told this story because of the disquiet that he was mixing, and even welcoming, sinners.  What about them, who had done no wrong, indeed done everything right – or so they thought.  Surely God and the Messiah were for them not “them others”.

Jesus’ point here, is we may well be surprised as to who is in and who is out of God’s kingdom.

It’s good news for those who know how much they have got things wrong.  It may not be such good news for those who those who think they have got everything right, yet cannot see their own mean-mindedness.

Thank you Lord

that you welcome home

those who return to you,

knowing that they have gone wrong.

Thank you

that you not only accept us when we come,

but are actively watching and waiting

for our return.

Help us not to be upset

by those you welcome,

but rather rejoice as you rejoice

Sorry, the same song two days running – but themes intermingling – and you can never sing this song too often!

#adventbookclub Reflections

Well we’ve come to the end of the book.

This year for Advent – and into Christmas, some friends and I have been using Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri J. M. Nouwen.  

This is not your usual Advent book.  There is no following the birth narratives and prophecies, no gradual approach to Bethlehem,  but rather a journey in to ourselves.  We have had the chance to consider where our lives are at.

Along the way, we have paused to consider not missing God in the small things, because we’re waiting for the Big Thing; waiting – for God and his time and place; being prepared to go to the lonely place; allowing God to paint our hearts; considering not just what we want to be rid of from our lives, but what things we are going to cling on to; thinking who we are called to support; finding our worth in God, rather than ‘things’; being careful about judging others; allowing our lives to be an immaculate space for God to take on human flesh; waiting for God to do his New Thing; keeping our eyes on Jesus; focussing on nothing other than the love of God; listening – really listening; those who affirm, stretch and support us; seeing God in those around us; allowing God “in”, to love us; belonging to God; laying down power; being ready; being known by God; seeing through the eyes of love; being part of community; giving and receiving forgiveness; responding to God’s invitation; God coming, as promised; surrendering ourselves to God’s future; reaching out to God; sitting at God’s feet; giving of self; travelling God’s way; not to always over-intellectualise, but sometimes to just stand and watch and wait; choosing gratitude for what we have; God’s welcome to us all; living generously; letting God have what we’ve got – however small and useless we think it is; and inviting God to cleanse and renew us.

For me the most powerful was seeing through the eyes of love – learning to look at people with love, seeing the good things in them.  I have also had the opportunity to allow God to touch some painful parts in me, and bring some peace.  For those insights I give thanks.

Others who have been blogging have brought other insights that have widened the experience:






Thank you to them all.  Thank you to all who’ve read this blog, and joined in with #adventbookclub on Twitter.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride, and that God has blessed, challenged, encouraged and comforted you on your journey.  May you know his hope, peace, love and presence through the rest of the year.

My blog will continue in it’s usual, rest of the year format, of blogging on each Sunday’s lectionary readings.  Do join me for that if you want to continue to explore God’s word.