The cover of my last album, “Weak and Strong at the Same Time” is very special to me. (You can also look this album up on itunes.) It is a drawn picture of a girl who looks like me. She is wearing rags, and she is looking into a mirror. On the other side of the mirror is another image of the same girl, but she is dressed in a gold and purple robe. She reaches her hand towards the poor version of herself, a look of compassion and love on her face.
Often people miss this little detail, but on the wall, there is a small framed picture. It is a picture of the same girl in her rags, running towards a man in a purple and gold robe.
This is the Prodigal Daughter. (See Luke 5:11-32) She is coming back to her old room after being surprised by her glorious homecoming. By the all encompassing love of a father she thought had disowned her. And now, because of that love, she sees herself differently.
I used to have a hard time relating to this story, even though I loved it. I’ve been pretty good most of my life. I haven’t run away from my Father’s house, squandering his inheritance, and I haven’t had much loose living, either. I have worked for the kingdom in my Father’s house since I was adopted into it at 16 years old. I’ve never really wanted to run away.
But there are times that I have wondered why, when I have served Him my whole life, He has not answered the most consistent prayer of my life : the prayer for a family. When I was sick with Lyme disease for seven years, I also wondered over and over again why He wasn’t making me better and healing my severe, chronic insomnia and the pain that racked my body.
Forget this whole grace thing. I wanted God to see my good works and reward me.
One day I read this same passage, but this time I tried relating to the older son instead of the prodigal son. It changed the entire story for me.
The older son is working in the fields (as always) when the his brother comes home. When the older son finally angrily talks to his father about his brother’s homecoming, he says” I have slaved for you all these years. But you have not given me anything. Nothing.”
The Father’s response is so loving, and yet so poignant. “My son ALL that I have is yours.”
In effect, He says “There is nothing that I have that doesn’t belong to you. ”
Reading the passage in this light, I suddenly saw a picture of the older son, as if in a movie. He was slaving away in the fields day after day. He would come home for dinner, but would sit at the far end of the table and barely talk to the Father. He would pass his father in the hallway, with the Father longing to hold him, but he would just brush past and go to his room, wallowing in his self made prison. This is what was happening in the home of my heart, as well.
Henri Nouwen says”Returning home from a lustful escapade seems so much easier that returning home from a cold anger that has rooted itself in the deepest corners of my being. ”
Here is the real question that I need to ask myself: is it God that is not good, or is it my perspective that is not good?
Look at the story. Both of these sons felt like the only way that they could be loved by the father was to be His slave. (Even the prodigal thinks his father will only accept him is if he comes home as a slave.) But this good, good father never wanted slaves. He wanted sons. In both the case of the rebellious son and the case of the religious son, He wants to run to them, yelling at the top of his lungs “my child, my child! You’ve come home to me!” He wants to lavish his love on them, spinning them around until they are dizzy with His love, falling down with them, laughing. He wants to celebrate with them the immense joy that comes at the end of a long, hard journey.
He wants his sons to understand that now and forever, everything He has is theirs. They don’t have to steal His inheritance, they don’t have to slave for His inheritance, they already have it.
No, this is not the picture of a bad father, as the older son tried to paint. It is the picture of the most loving father that has ever lived.
The father’s heart was never in the wrong. Our perspectives were wrong.
I have a friend who was asked question centered around the problem of evil. Her answer was the best one I’ve ever heard, one I have thought of over and over again.
“You know, I don’t really have a good answer to that question. But I do know this. One day, when we see God face to face, no one will be able to deny His goodness.”
I don’t understand why I’m not married, why I don’t have children. I don’t understand why there was divorce and pain in my family growing up. I don’t understand I was sick for so many years.I don’t understand why all my relationships have ended in breakups. I don’t understand why there is poverty or slavery in the world. I may never understand these things in my lifetime.
But when I see Him face to face, there will be no doubt in my mind that He is good.
As good old Henri says, “I am beginning now to see how radically the character of my spiritual journey will change when I no longer think of God as hiding out (or holding out) and making it as difficult as possible to find him, but instead, as the one looking for me while I am doing the hiding. When I look through God’s eyes at my lost self and discover God’s joy at my coming home, then my life may become less anguished and more trusting. ”
The Father reaches out to us. He says ” I never asked you to be a slave. All I ever wanted was for you to be my child. Don’t hide behind your good deeds, behind your broken dreams, behind your bitterness. Choose to look beyond that which you don’t understand and believe in my goodness. Come, eat at my table. When you pass me in the hallway of our house, let me hold you.
Child, please believe me. All that I have is yours.”
If we choose to come home to His arms, the next time we look in the mirror, we will not see someone in rags, bitter and torn. We will see ourselves as the Father sees us. Beautiful. Compassionate towards ourselves and others. And wearing His robe. Wearing His identity. No longer a slave, no longer focused on the what we don’t understand, but focused on being His Beloved Child.
The way that we see God will change everything. Like the beggar girl looking into a mirror and seeing someone beautiful, the way that wee see God will even change the way that we see ourselves.