In my teenage years as a dutiful only child, I identified with the older son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He remained at home working on the farm while his younger brother was dissipating his advance inheritance in a far country. Yet their father throws a big party for the younger brother when he returns home. Like the older son, I just could not understand the totally unjustified favorable treatment of the wayward younger son. Like the older son, I was angry with the father and the younger brother over this injustice.
Many years later, however, I could see myself as the younger son in the Parable. As a college freshman I began rebelling against organized religion and the spiritual life. During my subsequent 24 years in a distant country, I clung “to what the world proclaims as the keys to self-fulfillment: accumulation of wealth and power; attainment of status and admiration; lavish consumption of food and drink . . . . It’s almost as if I want[ed] to prove to myself . . . that I did not need God’s love, that I could make a life on my own, that I want[ed]to be fully independent. Beneath it all was the great rebellion, the radical ‘No’ to the Father’s love . . . .”
When I came to my senses and returned home, my rebellion and other sins were forgiven by God, who was waiting, saw me when I was still a long way off and ran to welcome me home. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see.”
Each of us often experiences life as a succession of unrelated events. Such events, however, are the raw material of our spiritual pilgrimage. Discernment of the spiritual significance of these events requires us to pause to reflect on how God appears in our lives. We can aid this task by putting ourselves into the stories of the Bible and by allowing the words of great hymns to speak to us.
 The Bible, Luke 15: 11-31, http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2015&version=NIV.
 Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son at 38-39 (1992).