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It is important to know when we can give attention and when we need attention.  Often we are inclined to give, give, and give without ever asking anything in return.  We may think that this is a sign of generosity or even heroism.  But it might be little else than a proud attitude that says:  “I don’t need help from others.  I only want to give.”  When we keep giving without receiving we burn out quickly.  Only when we pay careful attention to our own physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs can we be, and remain, joyful givers.

There is a time to give and a time to receive.  We need equal time for both if we want to live healthy lives.

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Our own experience with loneliness, depression, and fear can become a gift for others, especially when we have received good care.  As long as our wounds are open and bleeding, we scare others away.   But after someone has carefully tended to our wounds, they no longer frighten us or others.

When we experience the healing presence of another person, we can discover our own gifts of healing.   Then our wounds allow us to enter into a deep solidarity with our wounded brothers and sisters.

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Nobody escapes being wounded.  We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.   The main question is not “How can we hide our wounds?” so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but “How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?”  When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.

Jesus is God’s wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed.  Jesus’ suffering and death brought joy and life.  His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love.  As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.

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“Time heals,” people often say.  This is not true when it means that we will eventually forget the wounds inflicted on us and be able to live on as if nothing happened.  That is not really healing;  it is simply ignoring reality.  But when the expression “time heals” means that faithfulness in a difficult relationship can lead us to a deeper understanding of the ways we have hurt each other, then there is much truth in it.  “Time heals” implies not passively waiting but actively working with our pain and trusting in the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation.

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Jealousy arises easily in our hearts.  In the parable of the prodigal son, the elder son is jealous that his younger brother gets such a royal welcome even though he and his loose women swallowed up his father’s property (Luke 15:30).  And in the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, the workers who worked the whole day are jealous that those who came at the eleventh hour receive the same pay as they did  (see Matthew 20:1-16).   But the Father says to the older son:  “You are with me always and all I have is yours” (Luke 15:31).  And the landowner says:  “Why should you be envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:15).

When we truly enjoy God’s unlimited generosity, we will be grateful for what our brothers and sisters receive.  Jealousy will simply have no place in our hearts.

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The father in the story of the prodigal son suffered much.  He saw his younger son leave, knowing the disappointments, rejections and abuses facing him.  He saw his older son become angry and bitter, and was unable to offer him affection and support.  A large part of the father’s life has been waiting.  He could not force his younger son to come home or his older son to let go of his resentments.  Only they themselves could take the initiative to return.

During these long years of waiting the father cried many tears and died many deaths.  He was emptied out by suffering.  But that emptiness had created a place of welcome for his sons when the time of their return came.  We are called to become like that father.

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Thought questions:

1.  Does it matter that this about a father and a son rather than a mother and a daughter?

2.  How would Christianity be different if God the Mother had sent Her only Daughter to die on the cross for our sins?

Just sayin’.

What are we going to do when we get home?  When the two sons of the parable of the prodigal son both have returned to their father, what then?   The answer is simple:  they have to become fathers themselves.  Sons have to become fathers; daughters have to become mothers.  Being children of God involves growing up and becoming like God.   Jesus doesn’t hesitate to say this:  “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect, be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate.”   (See Matthew 5:48 and Luke 6:36).   How?  By welcoming home our lost brothers and sisters in the way our Father welcomed us home.

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“However, the truest solitude is not something outside you, not an absence of men of sound around you; it is an abyss opening up in the center of your own soul.”

Thomas Merton. New Seeds of Contemplation. (New York: New Directions Books 1961) p. 80.

Going home is a lifelong journey.  There are always parts of ourselves that wander off in dissipation or get stuck in resentment.  Before we know it we are lost in lustful fantasies or angry ruminations.  Our night dreams and daydreams often remind us of our lostness.

Spiritual disciplines such as praying, fasting and caring are ways to help us return home.  As we walk home we often realise how long the way is.  But let us not be discouraged.  Jesus walks with us and speaks to us on the road.  When we listen carefully we discover that we are already home while on the way.

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In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), there are two sons: the younger son, who runs away from home to an alien country, and the older son, who stays home to do his duty.  The younger son dissipates himself with alcohol and sex; the older son alienates himself by working hard and dutifully fulfilling all his obligations.  Both are lost.  Their father grieves over both, because with neither of them does he experience the intimacy he desires.

Both lust and cold obedience can prevent us from being true children of God.  Whether we are like the younger son or the older son, we have to come home to the place where we can rest in the embrace of God’s unconditional love.

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