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These are the duties of obligation ... between father and son, between husband and wife, and those which are shared between brothers. -Confucius
Through the years, I have often had the privilege of being one of the first people to welcome a new child into the world. Likewise, I am often invited to be with grieving families following the death of a loved one. I say this is a privilege because there are few occupations or callings in life that afford a person so much intimacy with families in moments of highest joy and deepest sorrow. To be invited into the home or hospital room, to sit at a table and share a meal, to speak words of celebration or comfort-all of these moments can be profound and meaningful.
During funeral services, I like to remind people that we were not only created as individuals, but as families. When you and I think about our center of warmth (that place in the heart from which we draw strength and nurturing and love), we most often see faces of family members and we think about remembered times and special moments with those whom we love. Every individual-in one way or another-cherishes family, longs for intimacy, and yearns for peace within the home.
Throughout the centuries, storytellers and teachers have recounted simple tales of family joys, familyheartaches, and the ties that make a house a home. In every culture and tongue, there are parables that remind us of the universal need for family, the yearning we have for simple moments in the home, and the joys of being a parent, a child, a spouse, a sister, or a brother.
The parables in this chapter are profound reminders of the ties that bind us together. Some parables celebrate the joys of life; others contemplate the sorrows. Some parables carry us along and give us a smile; others challenge our perceptions and our comforts.
As you read the parables in this chapter, I hope you will find a few to live by, and a few that will help you to nourish the spirit of your home. May these simple stories help you to cherish your center of warmth.
* * *
The Road to Heaven (Jewish)
Years ago there lived a man who had grown very tired of his life and his family. And so he decided he would set out on a journey to heaven where he would live in happiness, free of all worries and cares.
Early one morning he said goodbye to his wife and children. Leaving town, he walked for three straight days until he grew weary and decided to stop for a nap. Sitting down beside the road, the fellow took off his shoes and pointed them in the direction he had been walking so that, when he awoke, he would embark on his journey in the right direction.
Now, as it happened, a trickster came walking down the road as the man was asleep. Seeing the man's shoes along the side of the road, the trickster stopped, picked them up, and set them down again, pointing them in the opposite direction. When the fellow awoke, he put on his shoes and set off on his journey again, not realizing that he was backtracking every step of the way.
After a couple of days, the man noticed that much of the terrain began to look vaguely familiar. "Surely I must be approaching heaven," he said, "for I have been told that heaven has a familiar beauty to it."
A day later, the man approached a town. "What a nice place," the man said to himself. When he passed along the streets, he noticed that many of the people looked like friends and smiled at him. He found a house that looked much like the one he had built. He knocked on the door. A woman and children-looking much like the family he had left behind-appeared at the door and welcomed him.
This man went into the house and dwelt there in happiness all the days of his life.
* * *
Every individual, at one time or another, feels a restlessness in life-a desire for something greater, for something more. A person can grow weary of routine, of seeing the same faces around the dinner table, of having the same conversations. In essence, we want more out of life, so we search for a greater happiness.
However, as this parable reveals, happiness is never far away, but, rather, can be found in the everyday spaces of life and among the people we need and love the most. True joy is not a prize to be discovered, but the happiness that can be created each day.
As in life, there are many paths that one may take to discover the secret of joy. Many of these, however, circle back to the source of that joy-family, home, familiar faces, and familiar times.
The journey, of course, is what makes this discovery so amazing. Often, in the far country, we realize what has been lost. The return is only a first step away. And the lessons we learn on the journey home are the blessings that can last a lifetime.
* * *
Enough Fish (Yiddish)
Long ago a poor man and woman had nine children. This made eleven people-all of them living together in a small house.
Life was difficult, and the father used to go to the river every evening after a long day's work to fish for the family dinner. But, try as he might, he never caught more than eleven fish at one time. This meant that everyone in the family was able to eat just one fish for supper.
Every day the man would pray, "O Lord, how is it possible for a person to satisfy his hunger with only one fish?"
As time went by, the man began to have other thoughts about the fish, and he wondered how he might obtain a second fish for his own dinner. There were days when he even pondered the possibility of having a death in the family so that he might enjoy two fish instead of one. He was not an evil man, but was merely trying to assuage his own hunger.
Day after day he went to the river, but always he returned with eleven fish. Then one day the man received word that one of his children had died.
Naturally, he was deeply saddened by this loss. But, soon afterwards, the thought came into his head that he would, at last, have an extra fish to eat.
The next day, when the man went to the river, he was sad, but cheered by the one thought of what awaited him for supper that night. However, that day he caught only ten fish.
The man said to himself, "When I caught eleven fish, I was happy, and God provided. Now I catch only ten. So what have I accomplished?"
* * *
The lessons of this parable go far beyond greed and self-satisfaction. The greater need is to appreciate the gifts we have been given.
In life, it is often the case that we take for granted those blessings that are closest to us, that we see every day. These gifts tend to become invisible. And yet, when they are taken away, we feel sadness and loss.
This parable holds promise for those who have experienced loss in life, or who have a special need for tangible signs of love. In the end, this parable promises that there will always be enough-no matter what the loss-and there will always be a supply equal to meet any need.
* * *
The Reunion (Buddhist)
Once upon a time there was a wealthy man who had an only son. The son left home, but soon became impoverished. When word of the son's condition reached the father, the father left home and began to search far and wide for his child. He wandered over the face of the earth, far from home, but could never locate his son. Finally, reduced to sorrow, the father returned home.
Now it came to pass that, years later, the son being wretched and reduced to nothing, wandered near his father's home by chance, but he had no memory of his upbringing. When the father recognized his son, he sent his servants to bring the boy home. However, when the son saw the mansion and the beautiful grounds, he was overcome with awe and would not return with the servants, for he feared that they were deceiving him.
So the father sent back servants and told them to offer his son money if he would come to work in the mansion. Hearing their offer, the son accepted, and became a servant in his father's house.
Through the course of weeks, the father gradually promoted his son until he was put in charge of all of the father's worldly goods. Yet the son still did not recognize his own father. However, the father was so pleased with his son's faithfulness that, as the father's life drew to a close, he gathered together all of his servants, friends, and relatives and said, "This is my only son, the son I searched for all those years. From this day, all of my possessions and worldly goods belong to him."
Now, when the son heard this, he came to his senses and said, "At last I have found my father, for all that he has is now mine."
* * *
Love is the bond that binds a family together, and love alone allows us to triumph over the sorrows and inequalities of life, even when we do not understand the nature of another's sacrifices. These are the lessons of this parable.
On another level, this story is much like Jesus's parable of the prodigal son who left home, only to be accepted again by the loving parent. Beyond the relationship itself is a greater love.
Many people who have been harmed or injured by love discover that memories can be painful. When someone we love has hurt us, there is a tendency to forget the past, including many of the good things we enjoyed.
But remembering also brings peace and reconciliation-if not with others, at least within ourselves. The ability to forgive another person is the first step in finding personal wholeness. True intimacy and love cannot be obtained until one learns to forgive the past and embrace the future with confidence.
* * *
A Common Good (Jewish/Yiddish)
This is a story about a man who lost everything and became so poor that he was forced to earn his living by plowing other people's fields. One day, while he was busy plowing, the prophet Elijah appeared to him and said, "You will be blessed with seven good years. Would you like to have them now, while you are still young? Or later, when you are old?"
The poor man dismissed the prophecy, since he believed the prophet Elijah to be a sorcerer. But three days later the prophet appeared to him again and asked the same question.
The poor man was astonished and said, "I beg you, please let me go home and ask my wife." So he ran home and told his wife that the prophet Elijah had appeared to him and had told him that he was to enjoy seven years of plenty.
"Let's take the seven good years now," she said. "After all, we don't know what might become of us when we are old."
And so the man went back to the field and again the prophet appeared to him. "I will take the seven good years now," he told the prophet.
"So be it," said Elijah. "Return to your home, and when you get there, you will be blessed with great wealth."
Now it happened that the poor man's children were playing in a pile of dung that very afternoon and they accidentally discovered a treasure-enough money to feed their entire family for seven years. When they realized what had happened, they began to praise God. And the wife said, "Truly God has been gracious to us and sent us seven good years. But let us not forget to practice piety and generosity during these seven years of plenty, for it may be that God, blessed be his name, will be compassionate to us later."
And so they practiced generosity and kindness, sharing their wealth with many people.
When the seven good years were almost finished, again the prophet Elijah appeared to the man and said, "The time has come for me to take back what God has given you. I want you to return the money."
But the man said, "Again, I pray you, let me consult with my wife on this matter." And with that word the fellow returned to his house and told his wife that the prophet had come to take back the money of the seven good years.
His wife told him, "Go tell the prophet that he may have the money if he is able to find a family more charitable than we have been. If he is able, then we will restore the money."
Now God noted the woman's words and took note of the wonderful works that she and her husband had performed. And God rewarded them with even more wealth.
* * *
A generous person understands that one gains more wealth from giving to others than from hoarding riches. Generosity, in all its forms, always gives back.
Few people pause to consider, however, the generosity that a family can offer together. A family working together for a common good is a blessing to the community around them.
The parable also demonstrates that God is fair. Those who seek to be a blessing to others have every right to request God's assistance. As long as one sees the blessings of riches and wealth as an honor, not an entitlement, true joy will be found in the acts of charity, the service one renders to a needy world.
* * *
The Ways of Home (A parable of the Buddha)
Hear the parable of a good home. A family is a place where minds come into contact with each other. If these minds love one another, the home will be as beautiful as a flower garden. But if these minds get out of harmony with one another, it is like a storm that wreaks havoc upon the beauty of that sacred place.
* * *
Harmony in the home is not cultivated by chance or luck. Building a family takes work, time, effort-as with the tending of a garden. Likewise, trouble can come from many corners. When one fails to be attentive to a husband, wife, or child, the seeds of disharmony begin to be sown.
As this parable demonstrates, the secret to a harmonious family is to give focused attention to the important matters of the heart. Respect, courtesy, dignity-these virtues are the ones healthy families pass along from one generation to the next. They are the cornerstones of love. A home must be nurtured if one expects to see maturity and growth-the transformation of love into a thing of beauty.
* * * Reconciliation (Buddhist)
Once there lived a man of deep faith who, after his father died, lived happily with his mother before taking a wife. At first the man and his wife lived happily together under the same roof with the mother, but then, after a silly misunderstanding, the wife and her mother-in-law became estranged and grew to resent each other.
Excerpted from Candles in the Dark by Todd Outcalt Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Candles in the Dark.
1. Family Matters.
2. Faith to Live By.
3. Hope Springs Eternal.
4. The Love That Conquers All.
5. The Power of Friendship.
6. Embracing the Freedom to Live.
7. Finding the Wisdom Within.
8. Seeing the Possibilities.
9. Seeking a Guiding Light.
10. The Strength of a Virtuous Life.
11. The Gentle Art of Encouragement.
12. The Lighter Side of Life.
Notes on the Parables.