The Prodigal Daughter

This post is based on excerpts from Henri Nouwen’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son”.

I have always felt a deep kinship with the Prodigal Son painting by Rembrandt. I feel like the prodigal daughter when I reflect upon my journey towards the Father in scripture through Luke 15:11-32. 

I stray away from home when I forget those truths about who I am and try to find my identity in the world and by earning love.

We feel the need to prove ourselves daily - at work, at school, in our families. We think we must earn love. We need to prove we are worth something. We want to gain acceptance and we want to be worth it, so we try so hard by attaining perfection through our appearance, popularity, success, power, our grades, and our accomplishments. “I make myself believe that my life is not worth living without my achievements - I am a burden, I am a problem, and a waste of people's time and energy. Many people live with this darkness. They let the darkness absorb them so completely that there is no light left to turn toward and return to. They might not kill themselves physically but spiritually they are no longer alive. These lies reach into those inner places of our hearts making me question my inherent goodness and value. I feel like I will not be accepted without my efforts - I feel the need to prove how loveable I am. I am pushed to do anything possible to gain this acceptance” (Nouwen). I am placed in this "anxious struggle resulting from the mistaken idea that it is the world that defines me." To whom do I belong, to the Father or to the world? (Nouwen).

We are addicted to validation - "we are hooked to the world, trying and failing, this world fosters addictions because it cannot satisfy the deepest cravings of my heart" (Nouwen). The lie of earning love robs us off our daughterhood. You are not earning God's love - you already have it. Love is a totally free gift. I forget that I am made for unconditional love when these temptations to earn love start dominating my life and pull me away from home towards the fleeting glamour and unsatisfying allure the world brings. I am not so sure anymore that I have a safe home and I observe others who seem to be better off than I. I wonder how I can get to where they are. I try hard to please, to achieve success, to be recognized. When I fail, I feel jealous or resentful of these others. When I succeed, I worry that others will be jealous or resentful towards me. I become suspicious and defensive and more afraid that I won't get what I so desire or will lose what I already have. Caught in this tangle of needs and wants, I no longer know my own motivations for why I do the things I do. I feel victimized and distrustful of what others are doing or saying. Always on my guard, I lose my inner freedom and start dividing the world into those who are for me and those who are against me. I wonder if anyone really cares. I start looking for validations of my distrust and wherever I go, I see them and I say: no one can be trusted. Then I wonder if anyone really loved me. The world around me becomes dark - my heart grows heavy and my body is filled with sorrows. My life loses meaning. I have become lost" (Nouwen). 

We leave home, like the prodigal son, every time we lose faith and we forget the Father's voice who calls us His daughters, we are the beloved, with you He is well pleased! "The farther I run away from my identity as beloved, the less I am able to hear the voice that calls me His own, and the less I hear that voice, the more entangled I become in the manipulations and power games of the world" (Nouwen). "Do we accept the rejection of the world that imprisons us or do we claim the freedom of the children of God? We must choose" (Nouwen). 

This is why you must "claim for yourself your daughterhood even though that claim cannot be based on merit" because that identity will set us free (Nouwen). You are irrevocably, uniquely, and unconditionally loved by the author of love! 

Claiming our identity as beloved daughters must begin with forgiveness. Who has made us forget our true identity? Is it our boss, our father, a relative, a boyfriend, a colleague? Or have we been our own worst enemies? "Forgiveness boils down to the willingness to forego revenge and show some measure of charity" (Nouwen). We must start with ourselves. Forgive yourself because you are not your mistakes. You are not your past. You are a new creation!

I have personally tried to get a glimpse of God through my loneliness, joy, yearning, hunger, thirst and anxiety. "I sought to understand the ups and downs of the human soul - to discern their hunger and thirst that only Love can satisfy. I tried to discover the lasting beyond the passing, the eternal beyond the temporal, the perfect love beyond all paralyzing fears and the divine consolation beyond the desolation of human anguish and agony" (Henri Nouwen). 

"No one would ever be able to give the love I craved, that no friendship, no intimate relationship, no community, would ever be able to satisfy the deepest needs of my wayward heart" (Nouwen). Only God can satisfy your heart’s desires! Abide in His heart. Come back home He is waiting for you with arms wide open!