“(The younger son) longed to fill his stomach with the pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.”
We might say this is the moment the prodigal son hit the bottom. Having squandered everything he had, a willy-nilly trip of recklessness, he had nothing left. He had sold himself out to work for a pig farmer, a disgrace for a Jewish man, and now he longed to eat the carob pods the pigs were eating.
He was hungry and his hunger was the beginning of his journey home. We rarely see our deepest hungers as a good thing. Truthfully, most of us just go fill our hungers as quickly as possible. Are we nervous? A little ‘anxiety eating’ might take care of that. Lonely? Flip on the TV. Afraid? Immerse yourself in comforts. The point here is not that food or entertainment or comforts (or the dozens of other things we could mention) are bad, but that we are inclined to rely upon the quick fix. This may be particularly true in our culture, where resources for quick fixes abound.
The discipline of Lent offers a different suggestion. Listen to your hungers. Be present to them. Pay attention to them. By ‘hungers’ we are referring to the profound yearnings of our lives, the troubling emotions that speak to us of the deepest longings. Are you anxious? Listen to your anxiety. Of what is it speaking? Is it speaking of your longing for security or empowerment or love? Are you afraid? Listen to it. Is your fear speaking of your incessant desire for the control which eludes you? Are you angry? What is your anger telling you?
There are two very important things that can happen as you learn to listen to your hungers. First, you discover that having those hungers does not destroy you. In fact, to be alive is to be hungry. Our longing for love, empowerment and security is part of what it is to be alive. There is great freedom in this simple realization. Second, as we become aware of our hunger we can do precisely what the prodigal son did: we can turn toward home. This is no quick-fix! The life of discipleship is a life-long process of learning to turn home, learning to head back to the embrace of the father, learning to surrender our deepest hungers to the care of God.
The discipline of journal-writing can be a wonderful tool during Lent. Take up a journal, listen to your heart and begin to write. Don’t be afraid of your anxieties, disappointments or frustrations. Instead, listen to them, pay attention to them and let them guide your heart back to the heart of love.