Well, here’s the last reflection on the Welcoming Father in the parable of the prodigal son.
“Know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him” 1 Chronicles 28:9
“How radically the character of my spiritual journey will change when I no longer think of God as hiding out and making it as difficult as possible for me to find him, but, instead as the one who is looking for me while I am doing the hiding.” (106)
Though these two thoughts are not exactly the same, they do go well together. Both are a statement about my response to, as Nouwen names it, a welcoming Father. He is not hiding or turning away, but rather, He is available and accessible to all who seek after Him. He is not aloof or a landowner, seeking to exploit me for all I can give him. (105) In fact, He does “far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.” (Eph 3:20)
I agree that my “only true response can be deep gratitude.” (105) A gratitude that comes from deep within, recognizing that I am nothing and have nothing to give in return. A gratitude that acknowledges the riches from which I have been blessed. A gratitude that is seared deep in my conscience and that changes me from the inside out. When all else in my life fails, I am still able to return to this gratitude to ground me in the truth yet again that the welcoming Father still has his arms open wide to me. Not because of anything I have done, but because of who He is.
The other response to the welcoming Father is joy. “Once you choose to claim the joy hidden in the midst of all suffering, life becomes celebration. Joy never denies the sadness, but transforms it to a fertile soil for more joy.” (116) The welcoming Father does not prevent me from the realities of this life, but with his arms encircling me, I can trust him entirely. And with that trust, comes peace and joy that is impossible to explain. I have lived this recently and can attest to the power of joy. Even in the midst of the worst set of circumstances possible, I found a joy deep in my heart that allowed all of life, including the death of my husband, to be a celebration.
“Becoming like the heavenly Father is not just one important aspect of Jesus’ teaching, it is the very heart of his message.” (125) I think that we each spend time floating between the three characters of the parable, spending the vast majority of our time as one of the sons. Occasionally we have the privilege of being the welcoming Father to someone else. I think Nouwen would be intrigued by Friedman’s leadership principles. They seem to go hand in hand when Nouwen says that “as a Father, I have to dare to carry the responsibility of a spiritually adult person” and love that person “with a love that neither asks nor expects anything in return.” (132) This call to be the welcoming Father is a wholly involved challenge to say the least.