I’m always looking for a good book. I have a reading wish-list that’s 3 pages long, I have loads of books that I’ve purchased and haven’t read yet, and every time I get a coupon from our local bookstores, I feel the need to make a trip “just to look,” of course. I won’t deny it; I’m a book hoarder. The problem is, I don’t really have a lot of time to read. So my collection grows. And grows. And grows. And grows…dusty. In spite of this, I’ve actually finished a really great book, “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Henri Nouwen. This book is not new, it was first published in 1992, but it was new to me.
Paraphrasing from the back cover…This is a tale of one man’s spiritual adventure that “led him to discover the place within where God has chosen to dwell…The themes of homecoming, affirmation, and reconciliation [based on the parable of the prodigal son and the Rembrandt painting of the same name] will be newly discovered by all who have known loneliness, dejection, jealousy, or anger.”
Ever been called out by a book? There were many times when I felt like the author was talking directly to me, and I didn’t like it. Struggling with my own personal loneliness and feelings of unworthiness, I often didn’t want to hear Nouwen talk about unconditional love. There were times, when in a childish fit, I’d toss the book aside and say, “Well! That’s not me!”
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Ummm…yeah…she doth.
I was being called out. By a book. Nouwen freely spoke of feelings that I didn’t want to admit, even to myself. He had my number, and I didn’t like it. I flip-flopped between loving the book and hating it. Intertwined with the universal theme of the book, unconditional love, he spoke of the conditions we place on love. He spoke of our own jealousies and angers, and I saw myself in the ugliness. And, who wants to admit that they’re jealous and angry? Lonely and unworthy? Not me. No thank you. I’ll just live in my own little bubble, where ignorance and denial run rampant. But, I couldn’t put the book down. For one thing, it was our church’s book club selection, and I’m too nosy to not know what’s going on. For another thing, I was too intrigued. Where was this going? I’m glad I stuck with it. I had a huge a-ha moment.
I need a disclaimer here…what I’m about to go into may be common sense to you all. It’s definitely not a new concept. But, my journey is still in its toddler stages, so this was a huge epiphany for me. Almost at the end of “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” I read this:
“This is the great mystery of our faith. We do not choose God, God chooses us. From all eternity we are hidden ‘in the shadow of God’s hand’ and ‘engraved on his palm.’ Before any human being touches us, God ‘forms us in secret’ and ‘textures us’ in the depth of the earth, and before any human being decides about us, God ‘knits us together in our mother’s womb.’ God loves us before any human person can show love to us. He loves us with a ‘first’ love, an unlimited, unconditional love, wants us to be his beloved children, and tells us to become as loving as himself.”
Ok, so God made us. Nothing new there. Although, if you really think about it, it’s pretty overwhelming. He knew you before you were even conceived…faults and all. And, He loves you still…faults and all.
That’s the part that got me. “God loves us before any human person can show love to us.” Have you ever really liked a movie, only to be disappointed by a horrible remake? It really irritates me when that happens. The original was perfect, so why the terrible knock-off? It’s the same concept. If we were truly loved by God first, then how can any human love compare? Is the love of this world some terrible knock-off? Somewhere on my soul is the impression of God’s love. Of course nothing can compare to that.
Yet, we search for it. We seek out an “unlimited, unconditional love,” which just doesn’t exist here. But, instead of turning to God, we turn to earthly things. We look for a perfect love in others…in our parents, our siblings, our peers, our friends, our spouses. We are so unfair to each other. We cannot live up to each other’s expectations…they will fail us every time. Other people cannot compare to the love of God. It’s never good enough.
And, as I look for love from others, there are many who look for satisfaction in material objects. So many people are obsessed with money; they want more things. The goal is to have the biggest house, the most expensive car, the most stuff. We have more things than we know what to do with, yet we’re still unhappy. There’s always something bigger and better, whether it be in the form of a newer model or better technology. It’s never good enough.
How many people are numbing themselves with drugs and/or alcohol? The abuse of prescription drugs is horrendous. People can’t deal with life. It’s too hard. It’s too sad. Watch an episode of Intervention on A&E. Find one person there who hasn’t been dealt a crappy hand in life. You won’t. They all have some sort of trauma that they are trying to deal with; I truly pity these people. There’s a reason that the 12 step program is based on spirituality. We need something more, something bigger than us. We won’t find happiness in drugs. There’s always a better high, a quicker high, a cheaper high. It’s never good enough.
Young people look for love in sex, and they are truly hurting themselves in the process. Young girls are becoming objectified, and young boys are having unrealistic views of women. Both have unrealistic expectations of sex being some end all/be all of happiness and true love. Society has become ignorant to the true purpose of sex, and many are robbing themselves of great sexual experiences because of the casual, cheapened views that they hold. It’s never good enough.
I think you get my point. No matter where we look for happiness or love, it’s never good enough. It never will be. Perfection exists in God alone. Nothing else will do. No wonder I struggle with feeling lonely, even though I’m surrounded by people. No wonder I feel worthless, even though people tell me wonderful things about myself. Of course they will fail me repeatedly. I will fail them repeatedly. We are only human–humans who have first been loved by Perfection. We’re all trying to get back to that ultimate love; unfortunately, most of us are lost. We don’t know the Way.
I now know the Destination. I know where to find that unconditional love, though I still don’t completely know how to get there. I just need to find a map.