If you have been around Christianity at all for any period of time, and even if you haven't, you are most likely familiar with the story of the Prodigal Son.
The basic premise is that there is a farmer who has two sons. The younger son gets tired of working on his fathers farm and asks his father for the inheritance that he would normally get after his father died. Probably with much sorrow and disappointment the father agrees and the younger son goes off to squander all the money. He uses it to party it up well, gains all these friends impressed with his money and, no doubt, his generosity in allowing them to party as well.
Finally he runs out of money and he realizes what a mistake he has made. He has nothing to eat and considers eating the slop of pigs that he has found a job feeding. He decides that his father's servants at least eat and have a bed to sleep in and so decides to come back to and beg him for a job.
The father, all this time, has been missing his son and waits for him daily. When he sees him coming he runs out to him, he places a robe and ring on him and throws a party.
And the oldest brother gets angry and won't come out to the party. It just seems so unjust to him. He tells his father that all this time he worked for his father and he had never thrown him a party? The father tells him that he has always had access to all the father has, but they are rejoicing over the one that was lost.
This is a great story about redemption as the parable was meant to display, but I have struggled for sometime with actually relating well to that older brother.
And this is me and letting God work in me the things that I struggle with. Not trying to pretend I don't feel injustice, offended, or whatever it is I feel towards life circumstances or even God, just because
"I am not supposed to."
That is just lying.
So, instead, I take these questions and feelings to God and let him show me and teach me about them, changing me as He does well.
Pretending we don't feel things is not being authentic within our relationship and besides, He knows what I'm thinking anyways.
So please allow me to share my honesty with the Lord in this post with whomever will read it.
This is what I actually wrote to the Lord a few days back...
"So, can I talk to you about this older brother syndrome that I've been thinking about. Probably yes, it was his pride, thus my pride. Duh, I do have pride, but that's not what I am talking about. It seems unjust, ya know? Do you love those that run away and make mistakes more than those who make less? Maybe this is what I am afraid of, but more Lord-what and I supposed to do with my "injustice" feelings. Especially when I feel like those who don't deserve blessings are blessed. But do I really feel like that about everyone? Would you help me to understand it from your point of view. Probably more than anything I have to trust that there is still enough for me, there are still blessings for me-regardless of what others get. Please forgive me of my jealousy, covetness, pride and vain imaginations. Help me to trust in your goodness towards me, your love for me, it's more than enough."
And then I continued on in my study of Gideon and I feel like He spoke directly to this for me.
First let me say, that we are all born with specific inclinations and spirits and personalities. Mine happens to be one of compliance. I think I would rather do anything than get in trouble, that was always my way. God made me this way, and I am thankful for it. I am thankful for being a dork, as it protected me from many things. Not that I have been perfect, I have been far from it, but I would say my heart has the majority of the time, been to do what was right. I have known the Lord since I was 6, and so the combination of these things have brought me though life.
The Israelites had continually disobeyed what God had commanded them in the time of Gideon. They knew clearly what was commanded of them, they were still God's people, but they walked in rebellion and worshiped gods of the surrounding peoples. YET, God still provided for them and blessed them in lots of areas of their lives.
This is what Priscilla had to say about this...
"The fact that He chose to bless them with wheat to thresh does not imply that He had truly blessed them as a people. They had wheat, but not peace. Grain but not goodwill."
"Both oppression and abundance can coexist in the lives of God's people. God's loyalty does not equal God's approval."
"The harvest that God continually allowed Israel's farmers to retain was not a sign of God's approval, it was a sign of His loyalty."
"May we never equate His faithfulness to us in times of rebellion with His endorsement or tolerance of our choices. When we are unfaithful to God, He will not excuse or overlook our sin. But because we are His, He will still demonstrate His love and care by remaining faithful to His covenant with us and populating our lives with certain blessings. These gifts are not designed to lull us into spiritual apathy or lightening the weight of our offenses. He intends to woo us, graciously, kindly, lavishly-back into intimate fellowship with Himself."
Our society seems to be set up in ways that we think that blessing equals being better than. Even for Christians, sometimes I feel like (especially in America) that we think, God must be really proud of them making all the right decisions for them to be so blessed.
This is obviously wrong in that there are plenty of wealthy and horrible people and there are also amazing godly people who have little. But it still somehow plays out in our lives with that underlying belief.
I think all this time I have felt as if somehow the father throwing the younger son the party was a form of approval, and what has he done to be approved of? All the while the other son works hard and does what is expected of the father and gets zilch. Sometimes it made me think, hey maybe I can go get a little more approval or love if I spit in the fathers face (metaphorically) and make some pretty bad decisions so I can have that same love and approval. Oh, is that how you get it? I thought it was through obedience.
I'm no scholar and there are many smarter than I who I am sure have looked into the topic, but it strikes me interesting that we love to give grace to the wayward son but love to hate the older one for his response. Where is that same grace for his questions, his sin?
And maybe it speaks for my deep desire for approval, from man and most likely from God. Going back to the idea of being seen. Like, "do you see me trying to obey you?", "do you see me seeking after you, asking for wisdom and trying to make godly decisions?" (when I have). "Am I pleasing you?"
But perhaps it wasn't actually the father saying, "well done money squander, you are so much better than this boring sad prideful sap over here, I've been waiting for someone worthy to throw a party over", but rather he could do nothing less, because it is his nature to be loyal, forgiving and loving. It didn't make the other brother more worthy of love or blessing and it didn't make the one who had stayed less.
God can only be true to Himself, and He is love. He doesn't act loving, He is love, and when someone returns from mistakes then He only has the option to be Himself really. The one who walks away removes himself from protection, provision, and all the benefits of the father and once he realizes this, he returns, realizing his mistake. All the while the older brother never understands all he has never had to do without. He has always had everything the father had, and perhaps it was this unknowing of the abundance that he shared in daily, made him feel jealous. How easy it is to become jealous when we lose sight of the many things we enjoy on a regular basis because of the blessing of staying.
And the younger brother, I believe he was experiencing grace, love and forgiveness and loyalty...not approval. His father's party was not about approving his son's behavior, but being loyal to who he was as a father and his great love for his son. The older brother always had the approval and the loyalty and the gifts, he had just lost sight of them.
As I was looking up a few other articles on the matter I have come to the conclusion that I do not have to identify with the older brother, either.
Have there been times in my life that I have prided myself on being "good" and "being a good Christian", yes. Does that define who I am today? No.
The older brother was stuck in pride and his "good works". Although I may have never gone to party town and back, I have known what I am like without God's grace covering me and that it is actually his grace that is changing me constantly. That in his heart is where I want to be and is safe.
This is actually a pretty cool revelation to me. That if I didn't identify with the prodigal son completely than that must mean I am the stuffy son. Nope. It doesn't have to be that way. That it's a story for learning from, not necessarily having to identify with.
God's freedom is actually so much greater than that. And so, even though I am so very thankful for what He has shown me in regards to blessing, approval and loyalty...as this is something I think about often, He doesn't see me as that older brother. I am just some sister somewhere in the middle.
False guilt no longer is allowed a hold on me.