Throughout Lent, our church has focused on the story of the Prodigal Son, which is found in Luke chapter 15. Much attention is focused on the Younger Son who leaves, squanders his money, and is received back into the family by his loving father. The parable includes an Elder Brother who is livid at his brother’s and father’s actions, and the story ends without a clear sense of what happened with the elder brother. Did his resentment and anger subside? Did he receive his father’s forgiveness and establish a relationship with his younger brother? Did he continue to seethe and live the rest of his days without his father and brother? We do not know.
In The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen discusses the ways in which many people, like the Elder Son, are lost in resentment and anger. Nouwen also writes about the possibility of the elder son’s return. He says, “I guess that all of us will someday have to deal with the elder son or the elder daughter in us. The question before us is simply: What can we do to make the return possible?”
Nouwen suggests two disciplines, two concrete daily practices that may allow us to move beyond resentful anger toward relationships. The first practice is trust, which is a deep inner conviction that God wants to be in relationship with you. The second practice is gratitude, which is a conscious choice to recognize that all of life is a pure gift to be celebrated with joy.
Both trust and gratitude require the courage to take risks because distrust and resentment, in their need to keep their claim on me, keep warning me how dangerous it is to let go of my careful calculations and guarded predictions. At many points I have to make a leap a faith to let trust and gratitude have a chance: to write a gentle letter to someone who will forgive me, make a call to someone who has rejected me, speak a word of healing to someone who cannot do the same. The leap of faith always means loving without expecting to be loved in return, giving without wanting to receive, inviting without hoping to be invited, holding without asking to be held. And every time I make a little leap, I catch a glimpse of the One who runs out to me and invites me into joy, the joy in which I can find not only myself, but also my brothers and sisters. Thus the disciplines of trust and gratitude reveal the God who searches for me, burning with desire to take away all my resentments and complaints and to let me sit at God’s side at the heavenly banquet.
Reading Nouwen’s book and reflecting on the Prodigal Son during Lent, I have recognized my Elder-Son tendencies. And, I am open to practicing Trust and Gratitude. What do you think?