This week we continued our study of the Integrated Life with Sean talking about gratitude. The practice of gratitude has been critical in my ongoing pursuit of an integrated life. In 12 Step programs, gratitude is an essential tool to maintain serenity. Slogans like, "look for the good" or "choose an attitude of gratitude" are often heard echoing during meetings. Many folks in 12 Step rooms know, like the woman in Luke 7 or the prodigal son, what it means to be "forgiven much". Their lives were broken, but by the grace of God, they found healing, forgiveness and renewed purpose. The natural response to a "new life" is one of radical gratitude- gratitude that acknowledges, at a gut level, that even the darkest times can and will be used for good when turned over to the love and care of God.
For those, however, who aren't fortunate enough to belong to a 12 Step fellowship, a path to gratitude can still be found. It is the invitation that Jesus describes while talking about the elder son in Luke 15. The elder son is diligent, faithful, law-abiding, and ever hardworking for the father year after year. Yet, when his brother who was lost returns and the father celebrates, the elder son becomes resentful, hardened, calloused and even disowns his own brother saying, "this son of yours!" The elder brother, caught in his own pain and resentment, lashes out. He is blind to his "sins" of pride, judgment, works righteousness (I'm good/righteous b/c I do "good"), superiority, and lack of love. In reality, he is as lost as the younger son (it just isn't seen as overtly). The beautiful heart and love of his father immediately responds. He leaves the party in search of his son, finds him and pleads with him (he actually pleads!) that he come join the celebration.
Jenna Perinne paints the image of the father tenderly holding the elder son's face, lovingly looking into his eyes andy saying, "My son. You are always with me, and everything I have is yours" (Luke 15:31). He reassures him that he is seen, he (and all his work) is known, and he is loved. Everything the father has is available to the son- the fattened calf, the party, the singing. Nothing is withheld. The judgment, pain, resentment, jealousy, self/work righteousness can be healed if only the elder brother accepts the father's embrace, love, and abundant provision. It will require the elder son to let go of his judgment and old ways of seeing God and being in the world (judging, calculating, ranking self and others, etc.). He will need to learn to see with the father's eyes- eyes that see the internal and the abundance vs the external and scarcity. If the elder son chooses to accept the father's invitation, his heart will naturally overflow with gratitude. He will know at a gut level that he also is held in the embrace of the father, abundantly provided for, and part of the family.
If the truth is told, we all are part prodigal and elder son (or daughter). We are the "sons" in the story. Our lives are a mixed bag of overindulgence (in all it's forms), works righteousness, beauty, and godliness. That is just how it is with us humans-perfectly imperfect. My hope is that we take the time to sit with God thru this story, to hear His invitation(s), and allow His embrace. It's almost guaranteed that if we do, our life will move a little closer to integration and our response will be one of gratitude.
Consider this week:
Am I taking time to hear the voice of love?