One of the most beautiful things that can happen in a human life is that parents become brothers and sisters for their children, that children become fathers and mothers for their parents, that brothers and sisters become friends and that fatherhood, motherhood, brotherhood, and sisterhood are deeply shared by all the members of the family at different times and on different occasions.But this cannot happen without leaving. Only to the degree that we have broken the ties that keep us captives to an imperfect love can we be free to love those we have left as father, mother, brother, or sister and receive their love in the same way. This is what Jesus means when he says: “In truth I tell you, there is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or land for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, who will not receive a hundred times as much houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land–and persecutions too–now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30).

The great mystery of leaving father and mother is, indeed, that their limited love will multiply and manifest itself wherever we go, because only insofar as we leave, can the love we clung to reveal its true source.

Nouwen interprets leaving family in terms of emotional ties, especially ties that bind us to family and inhibit our emotional and spiritual growth. This is one way of looking at things, and I think a valid interpretation, but perhaps not the only interpretation. Sometimes the only way to leave emotionally is to leave physically, at least for a season. At times, maybe oftentimes, the physical leaving is more easily accomplished than the emotional leaving, which may take a lifetime for some.

Henri Nouwen, Here and Now (New York: Crossroad, 1994), 116.

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