Whenever I’m frustrated, whether at work, at people, at things, at events, everyone seems says, “Give it time.” This advice infuriates me all the further. Give it time? How much? I want to generously give it about 1.5 more seconds, but are we talking days, months, years, so much time I’m dead? How much time should I give?
A wise friend once told me, “Give it 6 months.” 6 months is a concrete, achievable goal. I first heard her advice when I was living in Southern Connecticut, desperately homesick, frustrated beyond belief, and wanting to throw away my travel nursing adventure after a mere 2 months. I just wanted to come home.
But 6 months was a concrete, achievable goal. I promised myself I’d give travel nursing 6 months even through 4 more months seemed like a torturous eternity. Yet however much I wanted to come home, I also thrive on overachieving and competing. I outdid myself. I made it 10 months and across to the other side of the country.
I’m home in Wisconsin now, yet home is still a constant ache on my heart. Home means peace. Home means belonging. Home means appreciation. Home means being cared for. Home means love. Home means being whole. Yet however much I try, my new home doesn’t quite feel like home.
I’ve given my new home 6 months. Almost 7 months has passed since I moved home to Wisconsin and to the fair city of Milwaukee. The warm, fuzzy nostalgia of home has faded. I’m now becoming nostalgic for my old, adventure-filled life.
- I miss the 75 mph speed limits of Nebraska and Utah.
- I miss drivers that understand how to drive above the speed limit even when the speed limit is 75 mph. (Seriously, Wisconsin. Going over the new 70 mph speed limit is OK. People go much faster. Trust me.)
- I miss the logical street design of mid and upper Manhattan. (Seriously, Milwaukee. You should not call a street that cuts off in the middle for 5 blocks the same street nor should you have two lanes go down to one lane and visa versa without proper signage.)
- I miss the mountains of Colorado, California, and even Connecticut.
- I miss the salty smell of the ocean.
- I miss exploring new cities with nothing but Google Maps and Yelp.
- I miss being away from home.
But I’ve been away from home. That place, that spiritual place, was miserable. I’ve identified with the prodigal son, the lost younger son of Luke 15:11-32 for years. I left home to go to college, strayed from my faith in college, and I was dead tired when I came back home to fully embracing my faith.
I was dead tired when I came home to Wisconsin last Christmas. Part of it was working nights, adjusting to the two hour time difference, and driving for a week straight, but I did little else but sleep when I got home. My parents kindly let me sleep for double digit hours straight. Too, throughout those months of travel nursing, my heart too came closer to Christ, closer to peace, closer to home. Last winter, my Heavenly Father took my tired body and heart into His compassionate arms and gave me rest, quiet joy, and a taste of his overabundant love.
I was home last Christmas, home both physically and spiritually. My joy was complete. I had peace. I felt like I belonged. I was appreciated. I was cared for. I knew with every fiber of my being I was loved. I felt whole.
I was home, home both physically and spiritually, and I wanted nothing else. But now I’m tired again, restless again, wanting to come home again even though I am physically home.
I know I’m where I am for a reason. I know I am working where I am working for a reason. Logically I know and faithfully I trust that my life is where it ought to be right now. So why am I tired, unsatisfied, restless at home? Is it the place, or is it my attitude?
In the story of the Prodigal Son, the elder son was unsatisfied, tired, restless at home too.
“Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”
The younger brother’s unexpected return from a life of debauchery sparked a visceral reaction, a verbalization of all the elder son’s bottled-up frustrations. The elder son has been the one working. He has been the faithful one who stayed at home. He has been obedient to his father. He put his father’s wants and desires before his own. He has been the one laboring for a fruitful harvest.
His younger brother has none of that. His brother asked for his inheritance while their father is living, a symbolic conversation basically saying their father is dead to him. He has had plenty of extravagant parties on his father’s dime. He has squandered everything he was freely given. His brother has only consumed while the elder son labored. And now, a party with the best garments, the best food, the best wine, the best of everything, is being thrown in the younger son’s honor.
The elder son is angry. He is steeped in hurt. He is jealous, bitter, resentful, and refuses to celebrate. He feels the whole celebration is unfair. He even refers to his brother, his brother who he has not seen in years, his brother who could have easily been dead, as “your son” to his father.
The elder son is very much the Pharisees and scribes who complained as tax collectors, sinners, and other “unworthy” people followed Jesus. The Pharisees and scribes could not understand how Jesus welcomed sinners home to Him so quickly and easily, just as the elder son in the parable cannot understand how his father welcomes the prodigal son home, dresses him extravagantly, kills the best animal, and throws him a party.
Jesus addresses the scribes, the Pharisees, us tired ones at home with the father’s response to the elder son. Jesus and the father do not explain how all of His actions are “fair” and “just.” Jesus and the father do not excuse the actions of the younger son. Jesus and the father do not excuse the bitterness and resentment of the elder son.
The father merely says to the elder son, “Everything I have is yours.”
The elder son maybe never had a fattened calf or a young goat to feast on with his friends, but I’m sure he was fed well when his brother was eating out of pig troughs. The elder son maybe never went off to blow money on prostitutes, gambling, and partying, but I’m sure he was loved, appreciated, and cared for when his brother was being exploited. The elder son maybe labored for years in the field, perfectly obeying orders, but I’m sure he was growing in knowledge and strength when his brother was wasting his life. The elder son may not have been the recipient of the banquet while his brother was, but for years he shared in everything his father had.
So too, Jesus says to us when we are hurt, resentful, bitter, and tired of our seemingly unfruitful labors, “Everything I have is yours.”
Our Heavenly Father is not holding out on us. He’s not taking us for granted. He’s overjoyed, and He deeply desires for us to share in His joy. Though the story is seemingly named after the younger son, the father and Our Heavenly Father is calling both the elder son and younger son home. In reality, both the sons are prodigals, needing to come home in their own way.
The younger son’s physical and spiritual journey is a bit easier to identify within ourselves. We can look at concrete squanderings and wanderings that led us away from the Father and the Father’s house. Yet, we all have a piece of the elder son within us too. We all have our moments of being tired of our labors, feeling unappreciated in our work, being jealous of others’ “better” lives, harboring resentment at our state in life, wanting more even though we have everything we need.
As the elder son, it is difficult to come home. Coming home as the elder son means celebrating without jealousy, resentment, and bitterness the joys of the Father and the joys of our brothers and sisters. This homecoming is perhaps even more difficult than coming home after our own sinful escapades as the younger son. It’s much easier to complain than hope, easier to want more than appreciate what is in front of us, easier to give into doubt than trust, easier to wallow in resentment than fight for joy.
As Henri Nouwen wrote:
As long as I doubt that I am worth finding and put myself down as less loved than my younger brothers and sisters, I cannot be found. I have to keep saying to myself, “God is looking for you. He will go anywhere to find you. He loves you, he wants you home, he cannot rest unless he has you with him.”
There is a very strong, dark voice in me that says the opposite: “God isn’t really interested in me…He takes me for granted. I am not his favorite [child]. I don’t expect him to give me what I really want.”
At times this dark voice is so strong that I need enormous spiritual energy to trust that the Father wants me home as much as he does the younger son. It requires a real discipline to step over my chronic complaint and to think, speak, and act with the conviction that I am being sought and will be found. Without such discipline, I become prey to self-perpetuating hopelessness.
– Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming
I’m tired of complaining, whining, wallowing. I don’t want to be the elder son. I want to be home. I want to joyfully celebrate that my brothers and sisters are receiving good things, even when I am not. I want to appreciate what I have instead of constantly wanting more. I want joy. I want peace. I want just a taste of the Father’s perfect love.
It took a pop country song to make me realize what was holding me back from coming home as the elder son. Zac Brown Band in their song “Homegrown” sing of man living in a small town at peace with his place in life. “Why would I ever leave?” Zac Brown sings. He has good friends, a good-looking wife, a place that feels like home, “I got everything I need and nothing that I don’t.”
Everything I need, nothing that I don’t. Isn’t that what the elder son had at home with the father? Didn’t the elder son have everything he needed and nothing that he didn’t? Didn’t his father say “everything I have is yours?” Isn’t the Father’s love perfect, complete, whole, abundant?
Then what is holding the elder son, holding me, holding in the elder son in all of us back?
“It’s the weight that you carry from the things you think you want,” Zac Brown sings in the bridge before the final chorus.
Whoa. That’s it. That’s it!
It’s the weight that you carry from the things you think you want.
I want so many things, but thinking about it, really thinking about it, I do not need anything else in my life right now. It was difficult to be lost all the time, away from friends and family all the time, having to adjust to new circumstances all the time. When I take off the warm, fuzzy nostalgia of travel nursing, the honest truth stares me in the face:
- Nebraska has way too many cornfields and a weird mascot for its main university.
- Utah lacked a lot of gas stations.
- Colorado roads in winter sound awful, and it was kind of hard to breathe in that altitude.
- California was obnoxiously more expensive than the rest of the country and had rush hour traffic that literally made me cry.
- New York City reeks of urine, probably due to the distinct lack of public restrooms.
- Connecticut had stop signs at the end of on ramps to highways.
- The salt water of the ocean makes my eyes burn.
- I’m still constantly lost in Milwaukee, relying on Google Maps and Yelp all the time.
- I’m still away from my true home of heaven.
Taking in the good and the bad of everything, I cannot think of another place I’d want to be. I do not need nor want anything, anywhere else. I have family in town and only an hour and two away. I have good friends in town, many a short drive away, and a close handful who live far away but are close by phone. I have a good job that starting to feel more familiar. I have a place that doesn’t quite feel like home, but it’s starting to feel like home. Why would I ever leave?
Too, thinking about it, really thinking about it, nowhere on Earth will ever be my true home. As a daughter made in the image and likeness of Our Lord in heaven, my heart will never be completely content until it is back home, home in heaven. Home is my destiny, the destiny of every human being on Earth. Yet no matter where I am physically, emotionally, or spiritually while on Earth, the Lord is calling me home, calling me to Him, His perfect love, His overflowing joy, and the abundant life He desires for me here.
The Father wants me home, sharing in His joy. He has promised “everything I have is yours.” He’s not holding anything back from me. He appreciates me as I am, where I am. I belong to Him. I am cared for. I am loved. The Father desperately desires me to be home with Him, even more than I ache to be there.
Truly I have been given me everything I need, nothing that I don’t. Time to come home and celebrate.