This summer I read Tim Keller's fabulous little book, The Prodigal God. (I'm giving you the Amazon link so you can go right straight there and buy it right now.) TK says about a thousand new and insightful things about the parable we call The Prodigal Son. But here's what stood out to me. This is a story about TWO sons.
We know all about the younger son, the bad kid, the cautionary tale we all heard about in Sunday School. He runs off and does whatever he wants, clearly out of fellowship and after his own agenda. Bad, bad, bad.
But then there's the elder brother, who stays home and is good, good, good.
We don't pay much attention to him in Sunday School. But TK says that the elder brother, in all his goodness, is also after his own agenda. And we know this because of the pity-party he throws, after his younger brother comes home. He's mad because he's been so good and therefore deserves to have exactly what he wants. When things aren't fair, he melts down.
Put it this way. Do we want the Father, or do we want what we want?
Now this is a scary interpretation of the parable for yours truly. Because I am the elder sister.
Literally, I'm the eldest of seven siblings.
I see myself in the elder brother in the parable: doing all the right things for all my own reasons.
And, like the elder brother, all was well in my good-girl world until.
My first big until happened in 1998.
In 1998, I was doing everything I knew to be as good as I could possibly be. We had been missionaries for 5 years. Lived on a little island in the South Pacific. Cooked everything from scratch. Pounded my laundry on a rock. Homeschooled the kids. Felt a smidge overlooked and resentful about it all from time to time, but tried to be nice to everybody anyway.
But in 1998, our daughter developed a seizure disorder.
And we lived in a country where the main hospital in the capital city would splint your kid's arm with a piece of cardboard ripped off a box. (I know this is true, because it happened to friends of ours.) So we would take her to the doctor and I would hear something like: "Well, she doesn't have malaria or intestinal worms. And she's still alive. So she's OK."
And I personally felt that this was a less-than-adequate diagnosis.
Far, far worse than the lack of medical care were the seizures themselves. They were just terrifying to watch. And even though they would last for 3 to 5 minutes, it felt like hours every time.
The feeling that I had in my heart was that God had just abandoned us and did not care what we were enduring.
I was working so hard to be so good. And bad things were happening. To MY CHILD. Which was way worse than any bad thing happening to me.
It just wrecked me.
(Eventually we took her to Australia for diagnosis. She had a childhood seizure disorder that was well-controlled with medication, and resolved with puberty. She's perfectly fine now, and most of the time we forget those two years ever happened.)
Right after the first seizure, our little missionary group had a spiritual emphasis weekend. The speaker came out from Australia, and his theme was this: "God delights in you."
He kept saying it all weekend.
And I just knew I didn't believe it.
It seemed like God was saying one thing. That the whole essence of life is: "I delight in you. You will always be OK in my love."
And I was believing something else. That the whole essence of life is: "If I am good, then God will give me what I want (keep my kids safe) and that will make me OK."
"God delights in you" has become the altar call of my life.
When I was the elder sister, so angry and upset over things not being right and fair, the Father came out looking for me with these words: "I delight in you. I love you. Come home. There's a party going on. Join us."
And that is His constant invitation, and choice I have to make every day.
Will I keep doing things my own way, hoping to control enough variables to make things come out like I want?
Or will I turn for home, and trust that God's love is enough for anything and everything that happens?
Here's what I have been learning along the way, and what I love most of all.
Nothing I do, or don't do, ever alters the Father's prodigal grace. He always delights in me.
No matter how many times I find myself in a far country, or out on the back porch in a snit, He is always, always, always longing for me to come home, and ready to throw a party when I do.