I came around the corner in that casual way one does wandering through a huge art museum. The fact that it was the Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia was exciting but I didn’t expect what I was about to see. It was huge, covered a whole wall from floor to ceiling, stopped me in my tracks, and overwhelmed me. The Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, the original, the masterpiece. I had just read Henry Nouwen’s book, The Return of the Prodigal, and realized that this was the very place where he had sat for days, soaking himself in the magnitude, the beauty, and the meaning of this painting and this story. And then he wrote a book that was also masterful and blessed me in my journey.
I went right to the Hermitage museum store and bought a print of The Prodigal Son, carefully guarding it for the rest of the trip through Russia. And now it hangs on my office wall so that I can look up above my monitor and see the Father laying his loving hands on the back of his ragged son who is kneeling before him and weeping.
I am that ragged one, the prodigal daughter. I came limping, even crawling, back to the Father after having squandered my inheritance by running after other gods, by following my broken strategies in search of love and belonging until I broke down. And the Father finally had my ear.
This is how it began. It was 1968. I sat on my bed and issued an ultimatum. “If this is a relationship, show up now or it’s over.” Nothing. Of course, nothing! I’m done! Done with God, done with Christianity. I turned away and it was a relief. No more pretending, pretending it felt real, pretending it was real. No more performing to fit in. Maybe they were all pretending it was a real relationship. It was a relief to decide, to discover, that it wasn’t.
I turned away from what was for me a set of burdensome rules, an ideology with a scary god, and a community where I didn’t fit. There must be a better belief system, a less rigid community, and somewhere, relationship. I dived into the heady early days of humanistic psychology, into a marriage I was thoroughly unprepared for and made a mess of, and into the New Age when it was new to American youth culture and very appealing to me. I joined the other disenfranchised evangelical dropouts at the Theosophical Society, studying ancient religions and mysticism, attending Full Moon Meditations and ohming to the Chinese Gong. I traveled to Northern Scotland to a New Age center promising enlightenment and freedom. I searched the sacred island of Iona for the “great god” Pan, just sure that somewhere there was a god I could relate to. I joined and left communes, traveled the country with a backpack and a guitar, got myself into a lot of trouble, and still wasn’t willing to consider Christianity as an option.
What was broken? Was it the church I was raised in? Partly. Was it the Christian family I was raised in? Partly. Was it my inability to connect with love and relationship when it was all around me. Yes. But I didn’t know it. I didn’t understand about A Trauma, the lack of relational skill development in early childhood necessary to build capacity for healthy relationships with myself, people around me, and with God.
I grew up in a Christian home in the 40s and 50s. We went to church every Sunday morning and evening, every Wednesday night, and had daily family devotions. My parents promised to raise me ‘in the nurture and admonition of the Lord’ when I was dedicated as an infant. Everything about our life revolved around the church. That was supposed to be enough. So, what happened? Was I just a uniquely bad kid, prone to wander, a rebellious black sheep? Well, I am a bit of a handful, but it wasn’t badness or rebellion that fueled me. It was desperation. I was desperate for the relational connection that my parents were unable to give me. Desperate to be known, to feel safe, valued, and loved. I was running from the terrible fear that fuels all unconnected children when we are left on our own to figure out who we are and how to do life, to know what we have to offer, and to be able to receive correction and guidance.
Because of his infinite mercy and grace, Father God did not quit on me when I quit on him. When he knew I was ready to hear him, he spoke to me. In 1977, as I was standing on a mountainside in the Ozarks, he nonjudgmentally but firmly spoke to the crux of my unbelief. He said, “Margaret, Jesus really is the Son of God”. Interestingly, he didn’t say “I love you. I believe he knew I wasn’t ready to receive that. What I needed was to know the truth, however unwelcome that particular truth was to me at the time. And in that moment, in the beginnings of that relationship with him, I began to know my true self. I realized that he was real and that I could hear his voice. I learned that I really did want to know the truth. I learned that I had the courage to face the fact that I’d been wrong and turn to meet the God I had run from. It was hard, incredibly hard. I didn’t want to come back to the church, but I wanted to know this God who had spoken to me. I wanted to get on his program of healing and growth for my messed-up life, no matter what it took.
It was many years before I discovered Dr. Wilder and the Life Model, but all the experiences of those years were preparation for me to finally understand the core of what had gone wrong for me and what to do about it. Understanding A Trauma, learning how capacity for healthy relationship is developed, studying the 19 joyful relational brain skills, and discovering an intimate, interactional relationship with Immanuel has taken me to a whole new level of growth emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. I am so grateful that Christianity is fundamentally a relationship of love and belonging. It is my passion to introduce others to this relational God who is with us and for us. I’m so very grateful.
If you wish to take a deeper dive into learning more about “trauma” using methods grounded in scripture and cutting-edge neuroscience, consider getting the resource Living From the Heart Jesus Gave You. This book has helped guide and encourage people like you to go deeper, faster in your relationship with Jesus.