Editor’s Note: This article is part of the Impressed series. Be sure to follow the rest of the series HERE.
I could hardly contain my excitement as we walked down a long and ornate hall in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia in May of 2013. We were about to walk into a great room that housed many of the very famous Dutch artists; most notable were the works of Rembrandt. The one I could not wait to see was Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”. What an honor to stand before this great work of art and look at every detail! The story this painting told was very meaningful to me as we have walked down this road as a family. The book The Return of the Prodigal Son is one of the most inspiring and deeply personal books I have ever read. My strongest feeling as I stood before this painting was for that of the father as he tenderly touched his son. As a parent, I have been there in that moment with our daughter, welcoming her back into her family after running so long with an addiction to drugs.
The author begins by describing his chance encounter with this painting and subsequent privilege to view the original in the Hermitage in 1986. As he studied the detail of Rembrandt’s work, he was moved by the characters depicted in this magnificent painting of the powerful story of the prodigal son. (Luke 15:11-32)
I have been there in that moment with our daughter, welcoming her back into her family after running so long with an addiction to drugs.
Henri Nouwen explores each part of the story including the leaving of the younger son, his return, the restoration of the younger son, the older son’s bitterness and the father’s compassion. As he addresses the movements of the story, I remembered our own family story. From relating to the feeling of a child who has rebelled, left home and choose to live in chaos, to the elder son’s bitterness and judgement, to the compassion of the father – we lived those movements. I could relate to each of them. Nouwen also includes his own thoughts on the characters and their roles in this parable. There are three sections in the book: The Younger Son, The Elder Son, and The Father.
The themes of struggle, homecoming, affirmation, bitterness and reconciliation will resonate with many readers as they did with me having lived through a personal experience of a lost child who returned home. As I contemplated each character, I found myself thinking about times in my own life where I could identify with each one of these three characters in the story. Ultimately, the thoughtful reader will stop and consider each character as it relates to his or her own life story. In the end, I found an element of father, son and brother in me. To love as the father loved and to be loved as the son was is something every believer should be able to identify with. The slap in the face was to consider how I have spent time comparing, judging, and being bitter towards people and situations in my life. The characteristics of the brother can easily surface in me and to other followers of Christ everywhere. This is one area I was challenged to grow from reading this book.
From relating to the feeling of a child who has rebelled, left home and choose to live in chaos, to the elder son’s bitterness and judgement, to the compassion of the father – we lived those movements.
The Return of the Prodigal Son is an amazing study on the human condition. It met me right where I was at with a powerful punch in the gut and powerful insight into this well-known parable in the Gospel of Luke. This story is for every person who dares to transform. For every person who understands that the first step is at the feet of our loving Father in heaven. To those who understand that we come just as we are, in need of His perfect love and forgiveness.
I have been the parent to a wayward, drug addicted daughter and I have dealt with bitter judgement towards her by family members and if I’m honest, myself at times. In those moments, searching the scripture, I began to realize the true nature of God’s grace: pure, simple and without judgement for me. Stories like this both in Scripture and in this book compel me to live in His grace and to leave bitterness and judgement behind in order to extend His love, mercy and grace to not only my own children, but to others.
I have been the parent to a wayward, drug addicted daughter and I have dealt with bitter judgement towards her by family members and if I’m honest, myself at times.
A final word on this book. I am grateful for the change I see in myself as a result of spending time on this great parable. As I processed all of these characters with some new insight from Nouwen’s book I realized I have also been the prodigal. In fact, we all are prodigal son’s, and all in need of the Father’s love, mercy and grace. In reality even now, I have nothing to give but to bow at the feet of the One who can save me from myself and receive His mercy and lavished grace. This realization was for me, the start of true humble submission and heart transformation.
Interested in reading The Return of the Prodigal Son? Check it out HERE!
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