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Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son 1669

Yesterday I attended a powerful retreat based on Rembrandt’s painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son. I have had a copy of the painting in my office for the past 7 years but it took this retreat to really apply its meaning to my life and to be able to relate it to my profession as a business consultant and coach.

We studied the painting as well as the life of the painter. Next was a discussion of the book The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen.  The theme was forgiveness, both of ourselves and of others.

The phrase that came to mind was “If only I had”….  I hear that over and over again from business owners who are still being dragged down by the past: regrets for an opportunity missed or giving up too soon on a new business concept.

In coaching we also talk about personal issues that may have a bearing on a business. Sometimes we discover a lack of forgiveness   of a past employee or a past client. The truth is that the person who is not forgiven is not affected; only the person carrying that memory is being hurt.

One of the hardest things in life is the act of forgiving and forgetting. Our challenge is to learn from the past, not to keep it alive. Running a small business is hard enough without carrying “garbage” that can be unloaded. Unfortunately, the only person that can put the “garbage in the garbage can” is the person that is carrying it.

To make real progress in life and in business two words are needed: forgiveness and mercy. Research for yourself the meaning of these two words and see how they apply in your personal life. Spiritually, both of these words are frequently emphasized. Even in business it’s important to take time and do some “inner” reflection.

The contemplative looks not so much around things, but through them into their center. Henri Nouwen

Nick J. Petra CFP


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