“Here the mystery of 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
leaving it. But the Father is always looking for me
with outstretched arms to receive me back and
whisper again in my ear–
“You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.”
The Return of the Prodigal by Henri Nouwen
We arrived in the States a year ago today. My Mom died a year ago today. It has been difficult to differentiate the pain from these two separate, yet simultaneous losses, so I don’t try anymore. But the more significant loss, of course has been my mom’s passing. I liken it to a big black hole. In my day-to-day, I am vigilant to skirt around it, but occasionally I fall in. And that’s OK. I need to feel the pain of being and remaining motherless, to remember the loss and how it has opened my eyes, to God and myself.
My journey began on the evening of May 30. I was packing the last piece of carry-on luggage to head back to the States permanently when I got the call. “Mom had an accident. She is on life support. We’ll wait for you before we turn off the respirator.”
Immediately I thought.. “This can’t be happening! Mom and Dad are picking us up at the airport tomorrow”. Then.. “This must be some cruel joke. I’ve been gone twelve years and finally when I’m coming back…on the eve of our return…Mom dies”! My final haunting thought was.. “So Lord, this is what you are requiring of me?
I was absolutely exhausted following weeks of completing ministry projects, sorting and packing, saying a multitude of national good-byes, and enduring a 27-hour plane trip through 12 time zones. The funeral was a blur. I smiled. I cried. I made small talk and listened to people say, “What incredible timing for you to be moving home when your Dad needs you the most. “The timing stinks,” I thought. I was numb.
Job’s response to the personal disasters which laid waste his life echoed in my soul,
“What I feared has come upon me; What I dreaded has happened to me. I have no rest, but only turmoil.” (Job 3:25,26)
We faced numerous decisions. Within two weeks of our return and Mom’s funeral, we were house hunting. I felt as if I was betraying Mom’s memory. If her own daughter doesn’t choose to pause, reflect, and honor her passing, who in the world is going to?!
The weeks passed. We chose where to live, where to send the boys to school, what house to buy and which furniture & appliances to fill it with. Deep inside, however, I knew something was wrong, very wrong. I was detached from myself, from my husband and my boys. I performed the essential functions of life, but was floating, disconnected, especially from God.
When anyone inquired, I simply said, “I’m not angry with God. I’m dismayed. I can’t see how Mom’s death conforms to God’s will. It doesn’t make sense.” Some would try to comfort me with stories about how people had come to faith during the last moments of their lives. I thought, “That’s possible but Mom had been in a life/death situation before and it didn’t seem to move her spiritually. Anyway, I have to trust God even if there was no deathbed conversion.”
Trust was clearly an issue. I prayed for my Mom’s salvation for thirty years. I waited for God to break down the barriers in her heart. In recent years, as Mom got older, I figured God would “pull the rabbit out of the hat” in the end. Much as God did with Abraham when at the final moment, a lamb appeared in the thicket to be sacrificed in place of Isaac.
When that didn’t happen…when Mom died without an apparent change of heart…something inside of me broke. God, can I trust you?
In Autumn, I began to own up to my anger with God. In my mind, God owed me, big time. So I scheduled a three-day silent retreat with one agenda. I told Him, “OK, God, I want either an explanation or an apology. You owe me that much.”
For two days, I sat in angry silence awaiting His response. I said aloud, “What a waste this is. Thanks a lot, God.” (add sarcasm) The third morning I awoke exhausted and discouraged. I took a walk and simply said to no one, “I give up.” There was neither hope nor expectation in my voice.
My walk through the woods paralleled a stream. I heard the sound of water gurgling over the rocks, but in my peripheral view all I saw was a stagnant pool of water. It didn’t make sense. I went to take a closer look. Water was moving at both ends of this apparently stagnant pool but the dead leaves floating on top did not move. It was so still. I sat down and all of a sudden I found myself crying. This shocked me. Why was I crying?
Slowly I realized I wanted to be this pool of water. To be perfectly still and at peace. Like Job, I had no peace, no quietness, and no rest, only turmoil. Six months had passed since the funeral and my insides were still churning.
In my silence God showed me something about this “stagnant” pool of water. Unlike the stream, it was quite deep. Ah, that was why it was so still. And then came a whisper from God, “I want you to go deeper with me.”
I returned to the cabin and allowed myself to listen. It had been a while. I hadn’t been too interested in what God had to say. God revealed three things to me that day.
First…You sound quite noble saying all you wanted was assurance of your Mom’s salvation. What you really wanted was her blessing. You never got that while she was alive and now you never will.
Whenever I read the account of Jesus’ baptism in the Gospel of Mark where God’s voice from heaven declares, “You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased” , I cried. Throughout my life, I longed for my Mom to say that to me. I cried and grieved over what had not been.
Second.. Had I extended your Mom’s life another decade, she still would not have blessed you. Again, I knew that was so. And I grieved over what would never be.
I was unprepared for the third.. Can you see that your Mom’s passing is actually a gift? What?!! What in the world are you talking about, God?! A gift? A surge of anger swept thought my soul. I sat and waited. A gift? How can that be?
Then God unfolded His meaning behind the thought. It was as frightening and freeing as Peter’s vision of the large sheet let down from heaven containing all kinds of animals, clean and unclean (Acts 10).
God was saying to me, “My daughter, for years I watched you chase after your mother’s blessing. You have been unrelenting in your pursuit, even while overseas. Also, you have been angry. I have been here the whole time. I want to bless you. I always have. But you have valued your mother’s blessing over mine. You have refused to see that. The blessing your soul has been seeking is mine to give. You are my daughter whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
The issue is not so much about me loving God, but me knowing that God really loves me. And being willing to receive that love totally and freely with full confidence that God’s love is enough. When was the last time I had embraced God’s love without reservation? It had been years. Years filled with solid service and critical demands on myself, others, and God.
Please God of the Universe, God who desires all men to be saved, the Good Shepherd who goes after the one lost sheep, the Father who runs weeping to embrace the prodigal son, please help me grasp this truth.
He is not offering explanations or apologies, but He is wooing me with these tender words.. “You are my child whom I love. With you I am well pleased. Receive my love.”
These words both entice me and scare me!
I know I want to rest in His home because there is no true joy or peace elsewhere. I know I long for the warmth and security of His embrace. But I’m afraid. Afraid of trusting God. Afraid of losing control. Afraid of giving up my strategy of performing to justify my “worth”.
But I also know I am moving in the right direction. I am coming home.
‘:..the Father is always looking for me with outstretched arms, to receive me back…”
My journey home is not about trying harder. It is about receiving the Father’s love. As odd as it may sound, the challenge is simply to be in my Father’s presence and to remember that I am my Father’s treasured possession, chosen and precious in His sight.