A Question on the Prodigal Son


As I’ve been processing through the final read of Brennan Manning’s memoir, I was struck by a few things and wanted to process some thoughts in writing and ask some questions regarding grace, the prodigal son, and our discipline.  Deeper still, the question, does it matter if we’re healed?

As I’ve been reflecting on Brennan Manning’s life, I realized something through his story.  He was never hear healed.  Never delivered from his addiction.  The only reason why he’s sober today is because physically he can’t drink without help.  However, his life and ministry over forty years have born more fruit than my life will probably ever produce.  His message unlocked the truth of who our Father is and what He’s like.  Through this whole journey, he was broken.

Henri Nouwen Wounded Healer

"The Wounded Healer", by Henri Nouwen

As I was processing this through with a friend of mine, I reflected on Henri Nouwen’s “Wounded Healer” concept [Amazon Link].  He was healed.  Why not Brennan?  What about some of the other giants in evangelical circles like Peterson, Willard, & Foster.  Even Chan and Bell?  Are they wounded?  Are they broken?  They don’t seem to be.  Have they been healed?  Delivered?  As we got talking about Nouwen, he asked me a question on the prodigal son:  What if the story is merely a chapter?  What if the son left and came back several times?  What if this particular story was the story of his fifth return?

Think about that spicy meatball

Cultural Context

In his book “The Return of the Prodigal Son” [Amazon Link], Nouwen brings a cultural context to the conversation.  He surveyed several cultures about the father/son birthright gift and all cultures resounded with the same answer.  Nouwen writes:

Has anyone ever made a request in your village?

Could anyone ever make such a request?

If anyone ever did, what would happen?
His father would beat him, of course!

The request means – he wants his father to die.

He adds, “The son’s leaving is, therefore, a much more offensive act than it seems at first reading.  It is a heartless rejection of the home in which the son whas born and nurtured and a break with the precious tradition carefully upheld by the larger community of which he is a part.”  This act is huge.  It’s more than a son who decides to leave home.  He’s turning his back on his father and wishing him dead.  All this while he takes his inheritance and squanders it.  Then has the audacity to come home.  The father accepts him and restores him.  Powerful.

Getting Real

Return of the Prodigal Son

"Return of the Prodigal Son", by Henri Nouwen

I don’t know about you, but I still sin.  Some small ones.  Some biggies.  Some things I’ve been delivered from.  Some things I still struggle.  I wonder if the unnatural rhythm is to return to the father.  Broken, bruised, hopeless, powerless, and empty.  Rather than run away and hide, we need to run towards Abba.  Expose our sin.  Let the light pierce the darkness.

I know sometimes my teenage daughter will do something she knows doesn’t honor herself, her family, or the Father.  She will try to hide it sometimes.  It creates a distance between she and I.  I can tell she’s tense.  She’s “off”.  She feels badly, but can’t find a way to get it out.  Many times when we snuggle together at night, I’ll disarm her and re-affirm my love for her doesn’t depend on her performance.  She’s safe to be broken.  She’s a work in progress.  Then she’s able to let her ugliness out in a safe place.  Her heart is good.  She’s such a good girl.  The reality for all of us is that we regularly get off track.  We just need to run back to the Father and not be ashamed.  He doesn’t love us based on our performance either.

Confession and forgiveness are such beautiful things.  We should do both more often.

Nouwen finishes this thought with, “Here the mystery of my life is unveiled.  I am loved so much that I am free to leave home.  The blessing is there from the beginning.  I have left it and keep on leaving it.  But the Father is always looking at me with outstretched arms to receive me back and whisper in my ear again, ‘You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.'”

Will I ever be made whole in this life?  Will I ever be delivered from all of my sin?  What’s whole in this story?  The sinner who minimizes and hides his sin to look good in this life, or the one who exposes his sin and agrees with Paul, “I’m the chief of sinners.”?  Brennan Manning is the ragamuffin prodigal son who never got right.  But he always kept running back to the father.

Healed or Wounded?

What’s your take on healing and roundedness?  What’s healing?  How important is it?  What does it mean for our lives as wounded people in light of grace from a Father that always takes us back?  Paul talks about the “thorn in his flesh.”  Does that mean he was like Manning, walking wounded but used in light of grace?  Let the conversation begin.

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