“Only when I have the courage to explore in depth what it means to leave home, can I come to a true understanding of the return.” – Henri Nouwen
This quote has stood out to me for a few years now after I read it initially in Nouwen’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”. If you have never read any of his works I implore you to do so, and to start with this gem. It is probably my favorite book of all time, mostly due to the fact that it has taught me to see God and myself in ways that I had not previously imagined, and I believe it echoes so deeply the love of God that is shown through Christ. As we enter into the Lenten season, one of the things that becomes more clarified is the superficiality that pervades our lives on a daily basis. If we have given up something(s) for Lent, we quickly recognize the absence that has been created and realize our dependence on those things. Whether it be soda, chocolate, social media, television, etc. we encounter a vacuum that we were not aware of when we felt “filled” before. I realize that there is a level of shallowness that I accept and enjoy that is startling, because it runs counter to the picture I see of myself most days, which is that I really want to engage my faith and life on a deeper level. But I am confronted with a different truth when I feel the absence of things I have given up, that what I really want are other substitutes to fill me in places where God longs to speak to me.
These substitutes represent a much more potent issue at hand, and that is the ways in which I leave the home of Christ for distant lands that I believe will give me assurance and acceptance, that will truly fill my inner longings. More frequently than I would like to admit, I am so attracted to the foreign lands that hold a lot of promise but never satisfy. And what is frustrating is that when I learn that one land cannot give me what I desire, I move onto another hoping that this time it will be different. As Lent moves forward, the bad news seems to keep coming that we are those children that play in the mud that C.S. Lewis described, who have no idea that deeper treasures and adventures await us if we will simply leave from where we are. But we are so prone to settling for something lesser. But Lent helps us realize the ways in which we have left home over and over again, and even continue to leave it. This may seem depressing at first but ultimately it can lead us to a place of hope if we will trust the process. We must, as Nouwen urges, have to courage to explore the depths of our leaving home so that we can live in gratitude for the ways in which Christ has led and is leading us back towards home.