Return of the Prodigal Son

Welcome to another year of Coaching Tips. I look forward to sharing with you ideas and resources that I trust will help you touch more students for Christ.

But today, let me share something from my summer reading. I happened to read Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son.   He reflected on that very familiar parable and insight he gained after seeing Rembrandt’s painting of the same name. Before you read further, why not click on the link to the painting and leave it open while you read.

Most of us readily identify with one wayward son or the other, or both. We have all had moments of rebellion, taking what is ours and leaving the One who loves us to pursue our own agendas. And, honestly, many of us struggle with envy, resentment, self-righteousness and a twinge of “I do all this for the Lord and what do I get for it?”

But I was struck by the thought about our becoming like the father in the parable. A colleague of Nouwen’s challenged him at one point.

“Whether you are the younger son or the elder son, you have to realize that you are called to become the father…The time has come for you to claim your true vocation—to be a father who can welcome his children home…”  p. 22.


The book is Noewen’s reflections on the younger son, then the elder son and, finally, the father.

“A child does not remain a child. A child becomes an adult. An adult becomes father and mother. When the prodigal son returns home, he returns not to remain a child, but to claim his sonship and become a father himself. As the returned child of God who is invited to resume my place in my Father’s home, the challenge now, yes the call, is to become the Father myself. I am awed by this call. For a long time I have lived with the insight that returning to my Father’s home was the ultimate call. It has taken me much spiritual work to make the elder son as well as the younger son in me turn around and receive the welcoming love of the Father. The fact is that, on many levels, I am still returning. But the closer I come to home the clearer becomes the realization that there is a call beyond the call to return. It is the call to become the Father who welcomes home and calls for a celebration. Having reclaimed my sonship, I now have to claim fatherhood. When I first saw Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son, I could never have dreamt that becoming the repentant son was only a step on the way to becoming the welcoming father. I now see that the hands that forgive, console, heal and offer a festive meal must become my own.”  pp. 118,119.

May the Lord bless each of us this year so that as we live at home with our Father, we also become mothers and fathers welcoming home those who do not yet know Him. That we would extend God’s grace to those who have never experienced it. And that we would show the wayward and self-righteous a faith of hope and a life of joy, belonging and purpose. May we see the renown of our Lord permeate every campus. And may God use us to build spiritual movements everywhere.

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