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Reflections on Nouwen

Return of the ProdigalWhen I was deciding whether to go into rehab, one of the pastors I prayed with regularly – a man I consider to be a mentor – said to me, “Even David had to go learn from the rods of the Philistines.” And so I went.

Every resident in rehab was assigned a therapist. My therapist was Susan. As far as I know she was/is not a Christ follower, and she knew I was. She also knew that every week on our way to a twelve-step meeting we went to a bookstore. She urged me to pick up a book entitled, The Return of the Prodigal, by Henri Nouwen. I did. And as I read my heart broke all over again, because that is quite simply the type of book it is.

And as I read Nouwen’s reflections on the prodigal son – having fallen so low that as a Jew he was not only feeding pigs, but also eating their food – a letter came from a member of my former staff team, a man I trained and poured my life into. Referring to my journey and completely unaware of what I was reading, he wrote, “I will not come down and eat with you at the pig trough.” I broke down in tears as I read his words. Those tears were not for me, but for him.

My path to rehab was initiated when I realized how spiritually abusive I was as a pastor and as a leader. I was not able to contain the emotions that flooded over me when I realized I had used God as a carrot and a club to get people to fall in line. I had driven people from the presence of Christ. I was the Pharisee Jesus addressed in Matthew 23. Not able to hold all that sorrow, I ran to my addiction and ended up in rehab. It was this story and this painting that helped me begin to find solid footing again. Maybe his words will help you begin to find your footing too.