March 6, 2016
+ I think I said it last week, but I’ll say it again today: Lent is a strange time of the year. Maybe I should not be saying this on Laetare Sunday, when we surrounded with so much rose. Yes, it is a time to think about things like sin and repentance. But it is also a time for reflection. And reflection, as serene as it might seem, can really be difficult too.
I don’t really like doing it. Because, reflection means looking at one’s self. And, more importantly, seeing one’s self. Really seeing one’s self. That can be very hard.
For me, as I said, I do find doing such a thing very difficult. And what I find even more difficult is when I compare who I am now with who I was, maybe just a few years ago. If I look back to, say, 2012, I realize: geesh, I’ve changed a lot! Yes, I am now a vegan teetotaler. Yes, that’s a big change from where I was in 2012. But, there were other changes. Not such great changes.
I didn’t think that, in my forties, I would be forced to grow even more. Isn’t there an end to growing? My parents in their forties seemed to have it all figured out. Why don’t I have it all figured out? But, no, here I am, still growing, still changing, still have to reflect on my changing self. It’s exhausting! There’s something both comforting and disturbing about that realization.
As I look back over my life, certainly I find some very solid mile posts. I know this might come as a surprise to most of who know me, but I have been a bit of a rebel in my life. No, not maybe the traditional rebel. I’m wearing rose-colored vestments today, after all. But I have rebelled a lot in my life.
Now, that might sound great to some people. Some people think the rebellious life is a romantic one. It’s so full of challenge and adventure. There’s never a boring day in the life of a rebel. I know you’re all so envious of that in my life, right? But there’s a downside to being rebellious. What is the downside to being a rebel? There is never a boring day in the life of a rebel! That is one of the downsides. Sometimes you just want a boring day. There’s no resting. There’s no day of not being a rebel. You don’t just get to have a day off from it.
Up in the morning,--rebel.
Before bed at night—rebel.
And, let me tell you, as romantic as people might think it is, the fact is: the rebellious life can be a very lonely life. It can be very isolating. Rebels aren’t the only ones who get exhausted. The people around rebels gets exhausted too. Oftentimes, the rebel is all alone in the cause of rebellion. There are days when it feels like one is Don Quixote fighting windmills. And it’s exhausting.
As I look back over the last four years or so, I realize: I’m tired. It’s been hard at times. And I’m not the same person I was before.
Maybe, to some extent, that is why I can relate so well to the story of the Prodigal Son. We have all been down that road of rebellion and found that, sometimes, it is a lonely road, as I said. Sometimes we do find ourselves lying there, hungry and lonely, lying with the “pigs” of our lives, and thinking about what might have been.
But for me, in those lonely moments, I have tried to keep my eye on the goal. I am, after all, one of those people who habitually makes goals for myself. I always need to set something before me to work toward. Otherwise I feel aimless.
Goals are good things, after all. They’re essentially mile markers for us to set along the way. The reality of goals are, however, that oftentimes—sometimes more often than not, I hate to admit for myself—they are not met sometimes. It was a really growing edge moment in my life when I stopped beating myself up and learned not to be too disappointed in myself when certain goals have not been met in my life.
Goals are one thing—good things. Hopes and dreams are something else entirely. There have been point in our lives when we have had one particular hope, I’m sure. We wanted this particular thing to happen so badly that we almost became obsessed with it. And when it finally did happen, it was fine, but then it was done and we were on the other side of that hope. The other side of hope, let me tell you, can be desolate place. It can feel very empty over there. That “other side”—the other side of our goals (once we’ve achieved our goals) and our hopes and dreams (when our hopes and dreams finally come true) can be, I think, even more dangerous places than the place that leads up to them.
In our Gospel for today, we find the Prodigal Son have some big goals and some pretty major hopes and dreams. First and foremost, he wants what a lot of us in our society want and dream about: money. He also seems a bit bored by his life. He is biting at the bit to get out and see the world—a place many of us who grew up in North Dakota felt at times in our lives. He wants the exact opposite of what he has. The grass is always greener on the other side, he no doubt thinks. And that’s a difficult place to be. He only realizes after he has shucked all of that and has felt real hunger and real loneliness what the ultimate price of that loss is. It’s difficult place to be, there, on the other side of hope.
But, I’ve been there. Many of us have been there. And it’s important to have been there. God does occasionally lead us down roads that are lonely. God does occasionally lead us down roads that take us far from our loved ones. And sometimes God allows us to travel down roads that lead us even from God (or so it seems at times).
But every time we recognize our loneliness and we turn around and find God again, we are welcomed back with open arms, and complete and total love. That, of course, is what most of us get from this parable.
But…there’s another aspect to the story of the prodigal son that is not mentioned in the parable. The prodigal has experienced much in his journey away. And as he turns back and returns to his father’s house, we know one thing: that prodigal son is not the same son he was when we left. The life has returned to is not the same exact life he left. He has returned to his father truly humbled, truly contrite, truly turned around. Truly broken.
And that’s the story for us as well. In my life I have had to learn to accept that person I have become—that people humbled and broken by all that life and people and the Church have thrown at me. And I have come to appreciate and respect this changed person I’ve become.
That’s the really hard thing to do. Accepting the change in myself is so very difficult. Realizing one day that I am not the same person I was in 2012 or even a year ago is very hard to do.
Who am I now? Who is this person I look and reflect upon? I sometimes don’t even recognize myself.
God at no point expects us to say the same throughout our lives. Our faith in God should never be the same either. In that spiritual wandering we do sometimes, we can always return to what we knew, but we know that we always come back a little different, a little more mature, a little more grown-up. No matter how old we are. We know that in returning, changed as we might be by life and all that life throws at us, we are always welcomed with open arms by our loving God. We know that we are welcomed by our God with complete and total love. And we know that, lost as we might be sometimes, we will always be found.
And in that finding, we are not the only ones rejoicing. God too is rejoicing in our being found. That is the really great aspect of this parable. God rejoices in us. God rejoices in embracing us and drawing us close.
So, let us this day rejoice in who we are, even if we might not fully recognize who we are. Let us rejoice in our rebelliousness and in our turning back to what we rebelled against. Let us rejoice in our being lost and in our being found. Let us rejoice especially in the fact that no matter how lonely we might be in our wanderings, in the end, we are always, without fail, embraced with an embrace that will never end. And let us rejoice in our God who rejoices in us.